The two apartment-mates of a man charged with stabbing a Binghamton University professor to death said Abdulsalam S. Al-Zahrani was argumentative, confrontational and threatened one of them in the three weeks they shared a first-floor unit on Main Street in Binghamton.
Souleymane Sakho and Luis Pena, both post-graduate students at BU, said despite Al-Zahrani's troublesome behavior, the Saudi national never said say anything to them about anthropology professor emeritus Richard T. Antoun, who was stabbed around 1:40 p.m. Friday inside Science Building 1 and later pronounced dead at Wilson Regional Medical Center in Johnson City.
Al-Zahrani, 46, was charged early Saturday with second-degree murder, according to Broome County District Attorney Gerald F. Mollen.
"There is no indication of religious or ethnic motivation," said Mollen in a printed statement Saturday.
Al-Zahrani claimed to be a Muslim, according to his apartment-mates. But he had no affiliation with the local mosque, said Kasim Kopuz, imam at the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier in Johnson City.
"When law enforcement showed us a picture, none of us knew him," said Kopuz. "This person was not involved in regular prayers at our mosque."
Antoun frequently attended programs at the local mosque, said Kopuz.
Mollen didn't reveal a motive for the stabbing, but said Al-Zahrani and Antoun knew each other through the defendant's post-graduate anthropology study.
According to the school's Web site, Al-Zahrani was a graduate student in the anthropology department working on a doctoral thesis, "Sacred Voice, Profane Sight: The Senses, Cosmology, and Epistemology in Early Arabic Culture."
Al-Zahrani, Sakho and Pena became roommates about three weeks ago when their landlord rented a vacant bedroom in their unit to Al-Zahrani -- a common arrangement in the student housing building.
Sakho and Pena said Al-Zahrani was confrontational as soon as he moved into the bedroom nearest the kitchen of the three-room unit.
When he asked Al-Zahrani why he bummed a cigarette when he had a full pack in his bedroom, Sakho said Al-Zahrani threatened him.
"He came out of his room, he had a knife. He asked me whether I was afraid of death," said Sakho.
Al-Zahrani walked away, which upset Sakho.
"I told him, 'Don't ask me the question if you don't want to hear my answer,'" said Sakho during an interview Saturday in the apartment.
Pena recalled what he described as one of Al-Zahrani's random outbursts.
"He was sitting on the sofa and just blurted out 'I just feel like destroying the world,'" said Pena, 22. "He seemed like someone that's calm, but he could flip in a second."
Sakho said Al-Zahrani claimed some students were spying on him and he was being persecuted because he was Muslim.
Both apartment-mates felt Al-Zahrani put them down for their religious beliefs -- both are Christians.
Pena said Al-Zahrani laughed at him for wearing a religious symbol around his neck.
"What do you got there? I want one, and then he'd laugh," Sakho recalled.
Sakho's last recollection of Al-Zahrani was around 1 a.m. Friday when he knocked on his bedroom door and asked if he was afraid to come out.
"I told him, 'Afraid of what?'" said Sakho. "When I open the door, he's walking back to his room. I said, "What's up?'"
Saklo said Al-Zahrani simply walked through the living room and down the hallway into his bedroom.
The stabbing was a surprise to both men, they said.
Sakho found out what happened when police arrived at the apartment around 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Pena said he saw Al-Zahrani on campus at mid-morning Friday. He didn't learn of the incident until he got to the apartment around 8:30 p.m. Friday, even though he had been on campus most of the day. He knew of a stabbing, but not that Al-Zahrani allegedly had been involved.
Both men said police searched the apartment until 1 p.m. Saturday -- nearly 18 hours after they had arrived.
Al-Zahrani's room was locked and police took the key, they said.
Al-Zahrani was arraigned Saturday before Justice Joseph Meagher in Town of Vestal court and remanded to the Broome County Jail without bail.
Mollen's statement said the defendant "intentionally caused the death" by stabbing Antoun. No other arrests are expected.
Mollen said he didn't know if Al-Zahrani had an attorney.
Various law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation, including Binghamton University police, New York State police, Johnson City police, Binghamton police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Broome County District Attorney's Office.