COLUMBUS, Ohio The arrest of an Ohio man accused of joining al-Qaida and conspiring to bomb European tourist resorts and U.S. military bases has increased tensions in the city s Muslim community, people who know the suspect said.
Christopher Paul, 43, a U.S. citizen and resident of Columbus, faced a federal court hearing Friday to determine whether he will be held without bond.
Ahmad Al-Akhras, vice chair of the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, knows Paul and said the charges are out of character.
From the things I know, he is a loving husband and he has a wife and parents in town, Al-Akhras said Thursday. They are a good family together.
Al-Akhras said he and others in the Muslim community are guarding against a public backlash.
People start wondering and questioning, what is happening and why now? he said. When something like this pops up, it creates some anxiety among the members of the Muslim community. ... We hope nothing bad will happen and everything will be clear.
Paul is accused of learning hand-to-hand fighting and how to use grenades and assault rifles at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Federal authorities said he then joined the terrorist group in Pakistan and told al-Qaida members he was dedicated to committing violent jihad.
The investigation into Paul and his activities spanned four years, three continents and at least eight countries, FBI agent Tim Murphy said Thursday, shortly before Paul s initial appearance before a federal judge.
Bill Hunt, first assistant U.S. attorney, declined to say whether any of the alleged plots were carried out. People whom Paul associated with in Europe have been arrested, he said.
Paul, who was arrested Wednesday outside his apartment, is charged with providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy to provide support to terrorists and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, which carries the most serious penalty of up to life in prison.
In court Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Terence Kemp asked Paul if he understood the charges. Paul replied: Yes, sir.
Paul s lawyer, Don Wolery, declined comment after the hearing.
A friend of Paul s, Hisham Jenhawi, 32, said he found the charges hard to believe.
I don t think it s even close to his personality to act upon something like that, he said at the courthouse. He s a very kind person. You would meet him on the street and he would want to hug you with the heart that he has.
Mike James, 20, who lives at the apartment complex where the government said Paul lived, said Thursday that he had come across Paul and his family at times in a hallway. He hadn t seen Paul in about a month.
He seemed like a nice guy, always waving, and the next thing you know, he could be a terrorist, James said. That s scary.
Neighbor Fode Toure told The Columbus Dispatch that Paul seemed cold and would barely lift his hand in return when he waved.
Jeff Bringardner, one of three owners of the apartment complex, told the newspaper Paul was reserved and kept a neat, clean apartment without signs of patriotism or allegiance to another country or cause.
He was always the nicest guy, Bringardner said.
It s unfair to judge the whole Muslim community based on allegations against one individual, said Adnan Mirza, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Columbus.
Thus far we haven t heard of any threats, he said. We all try to be a little bit more vigilant. I would think the community has come closer because we all are viewed with suspicious eyes.
The indictment says Paul traveled to Germany about April 1999 to train co-conspirators to use explosives to attack European and U.S. targets, including government buildings and vacation spots frequented by American tourists.
It does not name specific resorts or buildings that might have been targeted, but gives U.S. embassies, military bases and consular premises in Europe as examples.
Paul later sent a wire transfer of $1,760 from a financial institution in the U.S. to an alleged co-conspirator in Germany, prosecutors allege.
A fax machine in his home contained names, phone numbers and contact information for key al-Qaida leadership and associates, according to the indictment, issued Wednesday.
Paul also is accused of storing material at his father s house in Columbus, including a book on improvised land mines, money from countries in the Middle East and a letter to his parents explaining that he would be on the front lines, according to the indictment.
Paul s sister, Sandra Laws, answered the door Thursday at the two-story, pale green home she shares with her father, Ernest, in suburban Columbus but declined to comment on the case.
No charges are expected against family members, authorities said.
Paul was born Paul Kenyatta Laws. He legally changed his name to Abdulmalek Kenyatta in 1989, then to Christopher Paul in 1994, according to the indictment.
Paul graduated from Worthington High School in suburban Columbus in 1983, worked in the high school office, was a member of the archaeology club and competed in the state gymnastics championship, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.
After finishing his al-Qaida training in the early 1990s, he returned to Columbus to teach martial arts at a mosque, the indictment said.
Paul is married to a woman named in the indictment as F. Bashir, investigators said. Authorities seized a letter from Paul s apartment that he sent to Bashir about raising little mujahideen, or holy warriors.
Paul is linked to Nuradin Abdi, another man charged in a terror investigation, according to court records.
Abdi, accused of plotting to blow up a Columbus-area shopping mall, is awaiting trial. A laser range finder and a night vision scope seized from Paul s residence are listed among items that the government intends to use as evidence in Abdi s case, court records show.
Abdi also listed Paul as a personal reference on a government employment application, records show.
Abdi s attorney, Mahir Sherif, said his client knew Paul but declined to elaborate.
A third Columbus man, Iyman Faris, was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years in prison for a plot to topple the Brooklyn Bridge.
Paul and Faris were friends who went to the same mosque, Faris attorney, David B. Smith, told the Columbus newspaper.
I remember Faris talked about how he and these other guys would go hiking, Smith said. But according to him it was all recreational and social.
Sherif said the government has been trying to link the three men for years.