FREDERICK, Md. (AP) – One of America’s most extraordinary manhunts culminated yesterday in the arrests of an Army veteran and a teenager, asleep at a roadside rest stop – perpetrators, authorities believe, of a bloody, three-week sniping spree that left 10 people dead and multitudes paralyzed by fear.
John Allen Muhammad, 41, – arrested with John Lee Malvo, 17 – appeared in court, and was ordered held. Neither has been charged with the shootings, but law-enforcement sources told The Associated Press that investigators were certain they had cracked the case.
One source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a gun found in the suspects’ car appeared to use .223-caliber bullets – the fatal calling card in the attacks that began Oct. 2 with the killing of James Martin in a grocery store parking lot in Wheaton, Md.
The weapon found in the Chevrolet Caprice was a Bushmaster rifle, according to a law enforcement source.
The AR-15 is the civilian form of the M-16 military assault rifle. As a soldier, Muhammad received a Marksmanship Badge with expert rating – the highest of three ratings – in use of the M-16, according to Army records. Police also found a scope and tripod in the car, the official said.
In handcuffs and a green prison jumpsuit, Muhammad was ordered held without bail when he appeared in federal court in Baltimore. The courthouse was patrolled by a dozen federal marshals armed with high-powered rifles.
Muhammad is due back in court Tuesday on a federal firearms charge stemming from a 2000 court order in Tacoma, Wash., that barred Muhammad from harassing or using force against an ex-wife and children.
U.S. District Court Magistrate Beth Gesner made no mention of the sniper killings. Muhammad spoke little during the 10-minute hearing. When Gesner asked him if he understood the charge, he quietly answered, “Yes, ma’am.”
Malvo is considered by the court to be a juvenile, and all of his proceedings are closed.
The suspects, it seems, might have been tripped up by their own arrogance; authorities said they received a call on the task force tip line taking responsibility for the sniper attacks and for an incident in Montgomery, Ala.
Evidence from a Sept. 21 robbery attempt outside a liquor store in Montgomery, which killed one employee and wounded another, then led police to Malvo and Muhammad.
Two senior federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators hadn’t ruled out other accomplices, including some who may have provided vehicles or other support.
But who were these two, and why might they have unleashed terror on Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia?
Muhammad, a veteran of the Gulf War, converted to Islam, according to The Seattle Times. Malvo is a citizen of Jamaica. The Times quoted federal sources as saying the two had been known to speak sympathetically about the hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But there was no indication, authorities said, that they were linked to al-Qaida or any terrorist group.