WASHINGTON: A graduate student from Saudi Arabia was charged on Saturday with killing a retired anthropology professor, a specialist in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies with whom he had worked.
Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, 46, a native of Saudi Arabia studying for a doctorate in cultural anthropology, was charged with second-degree murder, and is being held without bail after a brief arraignment.
Al-Zahrani allegedly pulled out a six-inch kitchen knife and stabbed Richard Antoun, 77, an emeritus professor of anthropology and peace activist, four times in the chest in the professor's campus office Friday.
The two knew each other through the anthropology graduate program.
On Sunday, members of the Islamic community gathered in Johnson City to remember Antoun and to denounce the act of violence that took his life.
Although Al-Zahrani is Muslim, he was unknown to local Muslims and did not participate in community events, Kasim Kopuz, imam at the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier's mosque in Johnson City, told Arab News.
"The crime Al-Zahrani is accused of — killing a teacher — is senseless in the context of Muslim tradition and belief that places teachers equal to or above parents in rank. A parent nourishes one's body while a teacher nourishes his soul," Kopuz said, citing the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Kopuz said the first two days after Antoun's killing, "the (Muslim) community was very tense, because of anti-Muslim comments that followed the killing. They were afraid, some people stayed in their homes. But no one threatened them."
Kopuz, who called Antoun "a personal close friend," said on Sunday his mosque held a memorial for him. "About 150 people came to our mosque, Muslims and non-Muslims all together. We will sadly miss him," Kopuz said. "He was an embodiment of light and knowledge."
Active and gentle
Antoun, he said, "was of Lebanese descent; he was very active and gentle. After 9/11, he worked on helping people understand Islam, and he worked with me on programs here at the mosque and at his church, the Unitarian Universalist church."
Antoun, an expert on comparative religion, had written several books, including "Understanding Fundamentalism: Christian, Islamic and Jewish Movements," and had conducted research in Jordan, Lebanon and Iran.
Kopuz said Antoun was scheduled to participate in a seminar on Sunday at Temple Israel in Vestal, exploring Christianity, Judaism and Islamic days of rest and other aspects of religious practice.
The killing was met with grief on the Binghamton campus, which is nearing the end of the fall semester. The university has 15,000 students.
Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen said Antoun and Al-Zahrani knew each other because they were in the same department. Mollen refused to say anything about a possible motive but said there was no indication of religious or ethnic motivation in the attack.
Mollen said he didn't know whether Al-Zahrani has an attorney. But student Devin Sheppard told reporters that the suspect was at the scene when the police arrived and said they asked him: "'Did you just stab him?' and he said, 'Yes.'"
Al-Zahrani's roommates said he was dealing with a lot of problems, and was worried about finishing his dissertation on time. He was no longer on scholarship and didn't have a job.
Kopuz said Al-Zahrani was a loner and refused to associate with other Muslims on campus.
"He was not social; he never came to our mosque. We have about 450 in our family congregation at this mosque, but he never came. There are two Saudis employed here at Lockheed Martin Corporation, and even they did not know him. He refused to associate with anyone.
Imam Kopuz said those who did know him thought he had mental problems. "There are some Jordanian students here that said "Salaam alaikom" when they saw him, and he thought they were following him and were about to kill him. They say his behavior was really psychotic, which may be what led him to do this crazy sad act," Kopuz said.
His roommates and neighbors also say his behavior was strange."He was all the time shouting in Arabic, shouting threats," said Souleyman Sukho, a Senegalese doctoral student at BU who was one of Al-Zahrani's apartment-mates. He told reporters that he thought Al-Zahrani had psychological problems as well.