In “Unlikely Candidate for Car Bomber,” the LA Times (thanks to Warren) scratches his head and wonders how a party animal like Raed Albanna could end up being a suicide bomber. All this head-scratching results, of course, from ignorance of the jihad ideology and how people can come to hold it. Any Muslim, like Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, can turn from partier to shahid simply by reading the Qur’an. Anyone reading this who finds that assertion offensive is invited write in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and explain how it can be prevented. But the Muslims who are perpetrating violent acts all over the world are justifying them by the Qur’an, and I doubt that Taheri-azar is the first jihad freelancer to get his ideas straight from the book, without participating in terrorist groups.
Raed Albanna may not have had a change of heart. He may always have believed in the things that led him to become a jihad-martyrdom bomber. That would not have prevented him from being a party animal, as he would have known that all his sins would soon be washed away by his great act of killing infidels and dying in the process.
Finally, it is also possible that he was coerced, since his hand was chained to the steering wheel. But his behavior in Hollywood is not necessarily evidence of this coercion — and there is plenty in this head-scratching article that suggests that he was not coerced.
There was nothing like it in Jordan, Raed Mansour Albanna told his American friend. They were in a Hollywood club and “” fueled with beer and shots of Jagermeister “” Albanna was dancing with abandon. The pounding music was liberating and the young Muslim was on his game.
It was a few months before 9/11, and Albanna had left the constraints of his Islamic country far behind. In America, friends said, he had found what he was looking for “” sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
“He was into partying. We hit some pretty wild clubs in Hollywood,” said Steve Gray, who worked with Albanna at Ontario International Airport and considered him a close friend.
Albanna, 32, had a fondness for American women, the grunge sound of Nirvana and Harley-Davidson motorcycles and the bad-boy image they conveyed. He told friends he loved the freedom he felt in America.
All the more reason his friends were dumbfounded when they were told that the funloving Jordanian had become a suicide car bomber, pulling off the deadliest single attack in Iraq. U.S. authorities said he killed 132 Iraqis outside a Hillah medical clinic Feb. 28, 2005.
A hand chained to a steering wheel revealed fingerprints that identified him as the bomber. It was the only body part that remained.
While the unlikely background of the bomber was made public in media accounts, recent interviews offer a clearer view of how Albanna’s initial anguish over the 2001 terrorist attacks seemed to degenerate to a deep anger and frustration.
At the time of the bombing, Albanna’s friends in Southern California found it unthinkable that a man who had embraced the United States with such gusto would trigger such carnage in the name of Al Qaeda.
Albanna was “the last person I thought would become a terrorist,” said Lee Khalaf, a friend.
Barely 5 foot 5, dark-haired and blessed with a disarming smile, Albanna had grown up in a middle-class family in Jordan. His parents did not emphasize religion. He became a lawyer, but soured on the profession after failing to attract clients and felt he had disappointed his father, who continued to support him financially.
When he came to the United States on a tourist visa in early 2001, Albanna was searching for a fresh start, his family said. He settled in Rancho Cucamonga, where his friend William Khalaf lived. The two had known each other since the seventh grade in Jordan.
Friends and family say he quickly plunged into a fast-paced, hedonistic lifestyle. Gray and others said he smoked pot, was a fan of nihilistic rock groups such as Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails and reveled in the Hollywood club scene.
Albanna’s family knew of his fun-loving ways in the United States, said his mother, Hiyat Nareman….
Albanna was not easily defined. Friends recalled him as both a party animal and a thoughtful, generous soul. And they saw sides of him that were as different as the names he used.
Gray and other co-workers knew him as Raed.
He told others that his name was Ryan, and his English, which he learned in Jordanian schools, was good enough to help him succeed with women.
Christine Gonzalez, a Riverside salon owner, said the stylists “who cut Ryan’s hair thought he was incredibly good looking.”
“The girls liked taking care of him. He was a really nice guy, always telling jokes and making us laugh. I was really shocked by what he did,” she said….
On Sept. 11, 2001, Gray and Albanna were working as pedicab drivers at the airport.
When word of the terrorist attacks ricocheted through the terminal, the two friends crowded into an airport bar with dozens of horrified passengers and employees and watched on television as the World Trade Center towers and walls of the Pentagon crumbled.
“People were crying, but nobody was talking,” said Gray, a pony-tailed ex-roadie for a rock band. “Nobody knew what to say. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the TV.”
After Islamic extremists were linked to the attacks, Gray said an anguished Albanna turned to him and said: “Not all Muslims are like that. Not all of us hate America.”
Like Gray, William and Lee Khalaf said Albanna appeared genuinely horrified by the terrorist attacks. William Khalaf, a nonpracticing Muslim, said his friend openly expressed his hatred for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
“At the time, he hated the terrorists,” said Lee Khalaf. “That’s why I don’t understand why he joined them.”
How to explain Albanna’s transition from a secular Muslim to an Islamic terrorist?
His family was at a loss.
His friends said they saw no such evidence.
Yet, there were small signs of change toward the end.
A month or so before returning to Jordan in late 2002, Albanna began attending mosque and praying five times a day, like a devout Muslim.
Albanna’s mother said she was puzzled by his sudden devotion.
“He didn’t used to pray or fast before,” Nareman said. “He only started that after he came from America.”
Kamal Nawash, president of the Free Muslims Coalition, cautioned against connecting Albanna’s sudden devotion to Islam to “his terrible deed.”
The Washington-based group was formed to promote secular democracy in the Middle East.
“Being a devout Muslim doesn’t necessarily lead you to become a suicide bomber. If that was the case, the world would be in a disastrous situation,” said Nawash, who calls himself a conservative Muslim. “Assuming that he was mentally sound, it sounds like he had a political grievance or fell into a crowd of fanatical Muslims.”
William Khalaf said Albanna’s conversion caused a rift in their friendship: “All of a sudden he was telling me I was a bad Muslim because I don’t go to mosque. We stopped talking.”
Lee Khalaf said the change was abrupt. “One day he simply said he was tired of living like he was “” drinking, womanizing and the like. He said God had a purpose for him, but never said what it was.”
Albanna’s religious conversion may have occurred after 9/11, when other pedicab drivers began bringing up his Arabic background and the fact that he was Muslim, Gray suggested. None of that seemed to matter before the terrorist attacks, he said.
He recalled one morning when an angry Albanna yelled at a co-worker he thought was defaming Islam and threatened to kill him.
He quit later in the day, Gray said….
His father says:
“I would be surprised if such an educated person wanted to be a suicide bomber. Maybe he wanted to get out of the car. Maybe he tried to get out.”
But study after study has shown that suicide bombers are generally better educated than their peers. Papa is purveying a myth.