Barbara Ferguson, Arab News Correspondent
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2004-01-15 03:00

WASHINGTON, 15 January 2004 — Muhammad Ali Al-Ayed, a Saudi national, pleaded guilty on Monday to killing, and nearly decapitating, his Jewish friend.

Al-Ayed, 23, admitted to killing his friend, Ariel Sellouk, a Moroccan Jew, with a four-inch butterfly knife on Aug. 6. Al-Ayed has lived in Houston, Texas, during the past three years on a student visa.

Al-Ayed, who was scheduled to face murder charges in court next Monday, pleaded guilty in a deal that will limit his prison sentence to 60 years.

Al-Ayed’s attorneys told The Houston Chronicle that jurors might have been “particularly unsympathetic to Al-Ayed because the slaying raised the specter of Islamic extremism and stereotypes surrounding terrorists.

“Now is not a good time to be trying a case with these facts,” said Al-Ayed’s attorney, George Parnham. “I believe a jury well could have given him a life sentence.”

Prosecutor Stephen St. Martin told the Chronicle there was no clear motive for the killing, which Al-Ayed’s roommate witnessed. But Sellouk’s father, Michel, a Moroccan Jew who has lived in Houston for 22 years, told journalists he believed his son was slain because he was Jewish.

Al-Ayed’s defense attorney told journalists he did not know the motive for the killing, but said religious differences were likely to have been a factor.

“I can’t help but believe this was an element, but how strong an element is totally up to speculation.”

The two young men became friends while studying at Houston Community College.

About two years ago, Al-Ayed is said to have undergone a religious reawakening and reformed himself to a more conservative Islamic lifestyle, authorities said. During this time, he cut all ties with Sellouk.

On the day of the killing, Al-Ayed called Sellouk and suggested they get together. The two had drinks at a bar before going to Al-Ayed’s apartment about midnight.

Al-Ayed’s roommate told police the two were not arguing before Al-Ayed killed Sellouk.

In Boston, meanwhile, a Saudi national arrested upon arrival in the United States earlier this month was charged on Tuesday with possession of pyrotechnics found in his hand luggage, a judicial source said.

Essam Muhammad Al-Mohandis, 33, was charged with carrying three small firecrackers of pyrotechnic type, and with lying to federal agents about the nature of the devices. A federal grand jury handed down the indictment.

Al-Mohandis, who was arraigned before Judge Robert Collins, pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge, according to AFP news agency, ordered the defendant released on a $50,000 bond, authorizing him to return to Saudi Arabia ahead of trial in the United States.

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