Omeed Aziz Popal in wedding photo believed to be two weeks old (San Francisco Chronicle)
A woman claims she heard the man who drove into 14 people, killing one, in a violent hit-and-run rampage in San Francisco yesterday refer to himself as a terrorist.
KTVU-TV San Francisco reporter Rob Roth told WND the witness at the scene of Omeed Aziz Popal’s arrest heard the 29-year-old man say, to no one in particular: “I’m a terrorist, I don’t care.”
Popal, of nearby Fremont, Calif., recently returned from Afghanistan where he married an Afghan woman in an arrangement by his family.
Roth said the witness would not give her name and didn’t want to go on camera. He pointed out a woman next to the witness nodded in affirmation as Popal’s words were recalled.
San Francisco police, however, came to a quick determination yesterday that Popal’s 20-minute drive of carnage in his Honda Pilot SUV – said by relatives to be completely out of character – was not an act of terrorism.
Sgt. Steve Mannina, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, told WND he had not heard the woman’s claim about Popal and could not confirm it.
Mannina said the department’s command staff released a report last night determining it was not an act of terrorism. He could not provide details as to how the department arrived at that determination and how it came about so quickly.
Bloodied sheets and rags on sidewalk in front of Jewish Community Center in San Francisco after yesterday’s hit-and-run rampage. (San Francisco Chronicle)
In similar solo attacks by Muslim men in recent years – including a deadly attack on a Jewish center in Seattle last month – authorities have been quick to dismiss terrorism as a possible motive.
Two of Popal’s victims yesterday reportedly were struck in front of a San Francisco Jewish Community Center.
Some of Popal’s relatives have said he might have been distressed by his return to the U.S. without his newlywed wife, who awaits a visa.
Roth told WND he mentioned the witness’s claim at the end of a TV report yesterday as an aside, only because a police spokesman brought up the issue of terrorism “out of the blue,” without any prompting.
Roth said he asked spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens yesterday, “Why did you even get into that?”
Gittens replied, according to the TV newsman, “Because I know it’s out there, and I want to dispel it.”
Capping his news report, Roth said: “One witness said the suspect referred to himself as a terrorist, but police say this case may have been many things, but it was not an act of terrorism.”
Another KTVU report provided background on Popal, quoting family members who had a hard time believing he could be responsible for hurting, let alone killing someone.
A cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh, told KTVU: “I’ve never seen him violent. I’ve never seen him fight or have any big argument with anybody before.”
Another cousin, Zarghona Ramish, said, “He’s very good person. He’s not like that that. I don’t know why … what’s wrong with him.”
Ramish, however, said Popal had disturbing dreams before his trip to Afghanistan.
“The devil come all the time close to him and he wants to kill him,” she recounted, adding Popal had such a dream “several times.”
Popal was born in Afghanistan but came to the U.S. at a young age, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The paper said he returned to his home country to marry, according to relatives, and his wife’s family was very traditional and strict.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported Popal’s “day of carnage” began in Fremont at about noon when he ran over and killed a 54-year-old man.
The first call to police came in at 12:47 p.m. yesterday after he plowed into another vehicle at Larkin Street and Golden Gate Avenue near San Francisco’s Civic Center.
Within minutes, the paper said, Popal sped into the nearby hills “ripping back and forth through a 15-square-block area like a ripsaw on four wheels, leaping curbs, cutting corners and tearing the wrong way through traffic.
Throughout the chaos, the Chronicle said, “only one thing seemed clear: The driver was on a hunt. A hunt for humans.”
In March, a recently graduated student at the University of North Carolina, Iranian immigrant Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, drove an SUV into a crowded pedestrian zone, striking nine people. Regarded as a serious student who was “shy but friendly,” Taheri-azar said he did it “out of love for Allah.”
“Allah gives permission in the Quran for the followers of Allah to attack those who have raged war against them, with the expectation of eternal paradise in case of martyrdom and/or living one’s life in obedience of all of Allah’s commandments found throughout the Quran’s 114 chapters,” wrote Taheri-azar in a two-page letter sent to a television reporter and anchor at WTVD-TV, an ABC affiliate in Durham.
Last month, Naveed Afzal Haq of Pasco, Wash., broke through security at the Jewish Federation Center in Seattle and announced to staff members: “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel.” The 30-year-old immediately began shooting randomly with a semiautomatic 9-mm handgun at the 18 employees and visitors in the offices.
In October 2005, 21-year-old student Joel Hinrichs blew himself up outside the University of Oklahoma’s football stadium where 84,000 were watching a game. Police insisted it was merely a suicide, but many questions remain unanswered.
As WorldNetDaily reported, investigators found “Islamic jihad” material in Hinrichs’ apartment, and the student reportedly attended a nearby mosque – the same one attended by Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
WND reported a feed-store owner who refused to sell Hinrichs fertilizer that can be used to fashion explosives said an off-duty Norman police officer witnessed the attempted transaction. Ammonium nitrate was a principle ingredient in the bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City April 19, 1995.
In January 2004, after apparently undergoing a religious awakening, a Saudi Arabian student in Houston killed his Jewish friend by slashing his throat. Mohammed Ali Alayed, 23, pleaded guilty to the Aug. 6 attack on Ariel Sellouk, also 23, who almost was decapitated with a knife.
Houston police said no clear motive had been established, but Alayed went to a local mosque after the slaying.
Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, who went on a deadly shooting spree in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002, was said by some terrorism analysts to fit the profile of a disaffected outcast who becomes increasingly radicalized under the influence of Islamism.
July 4, 2002, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, an Egyptian national, killed two people and wounded three others at a ticket counter for the Israeli national airline El Al at Los Angeles International Airport. He was killed by an El Al security guard after he fired more than 10 shots from a semi-automatic pistol.