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Police have arrested a two males, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, a 17 year old minor, on suspicion of mass murder. As of 2002-NOV-7, the Associated Press reported that "Muhammad and Malvo have been accused of shooting 17 people, killing 12 and wounding five, in Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state and Washington, D.C." 1,2  A new case has surfaced: a 2002-SEP-5 shooting in Clinton, MD of Paul LaRuffa, a restaurant owner. LaRuffa's laptop computer was allegedly found in Muhammad's car. 3

"Muhammad and Malvo were charged under two Virginia statutes: a new post-Sept. 11 terrorism law and a state law allowing capital punishment for the killing of more than one person within three years. Both charges carry the death penalty. Only the triggerman could get the death penalty under the multiple murder statute; both could receive it under the terrorism law. ...While federal prosecutors have yet to say which jurisdiction will try the pair first, a decision may hinge on where a death sentence can be obtained with the most ease." 1

If Muhammad and/or Malvo actually committed mass murder, then a lot of people will want to know what motivated them to kill so many strangers at random. Unfortunately, if both are executed, they they may not have been in custody long enough for mental health professionals to fully understand their motivation.

There is no end to the speculation about their motivation.

bullet Family conflict: Muhammad's ex-wife, Mildred, suggests that the killing spree was a ruse to draw attention away from Muhammad's main goal. That was to kill her and gain custody of their children. She has pointed out that:
bullet He had allegedly promised to kill her.
bullet Several of the shootings happened at branches of stores where she had frequently shopped in Tacoma, WA.
bullet She believes that a warning letter left by the sniper which said: "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time," was a message to her.

Her suggestion is that that he planned to kill her as one of many victims. She would then simply appear to be a person who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This way, police might not investigate her former husband as a suspect. 4

bullet Race: The Associated Press reported that, according to his wife, "He wanted to be a career soldier, but he returned from his tour of duty in the Gulf War a changed man, saying black soldiers like himself had been discriminated against." She said "When he got back, he was a very angry man." 4 He might have shot white strangers at random, only killing a few black victims to make it seem as if race was not an issue.
bullet Sexual orientation: The National Enquirer deviated from their usual fare of cancer cures, UFO sightings and end of the world prophecies by featuring an article titled: "Snipers: Their secret gay life - & why it made them kill." They suggest that Muhammad and Malvo were homosexual lovers, and that "their gay secret fueled the terrifying rage that left 10 victims dead." They quoted Dr. Andrew Hodges, allegedly a forensic psychiatrist, as saying that "When Muhammad's wife regained custody of their three children, Muhammad's latent homosexuality was triggered." They also quoted Dr. Carole Lieberman, allegedly a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, who suggested that "Muhammad has an obsession with control...he solved a problem [with women] by getting a partner -- Malvo -- who was much younger and completely dependent on him." The National Enquirer concluded -- without any stated evidence -- that "His ultimate act of control, triggered by his new gay relationship, was to snuff out the lives of other people." They don't explain how having a partner to control would somehow drive him to seek more control by killing others. 9
bullet Extortion: In one of his notes, the shooter promised to stop killing people if he was given $10 million. The entire shooting spree might have been a mechanism to make a lot of money.
bullet Mental illness: Muhammad and/or Malvo might have been psychopaths, and had little or no regard for the value of human life. One or both might have been excited by the publicity given the case, and simply killed people for the thrill. Brian Levin, California State University professor of criminal justice and a former NYC police officer commented on CNBC: "This fellow is a sociopath. He was probably a sociopath for some time. That's someone who knows right from wrong but gets a sense of power. And unfortunately, when you put into that the hatefulness of the Nation of Islam, which is a bigoted, extreme theology. It is not the same thing as Islam. Louis Farrakhan has called white people devils and has criticized the United States. This kind of rhetoric can label regular Americans as legitimate targets for violence when you have someone who is a festering ball of anger." 5
bullet Military training: "Spooky" posted an article on the CyberSheherazade web site,  referring to Muhammad as a " 'penniless' Gulf War Army vet., trained at Fort Lewis, aka 'sniper school'." She/he suggests that violence might be a natural outcome of armed forces training. Spooky wonders whether: "...those dead of the sniper's bullets [can] be considered victims of 'friendly fire'? And the women murdered in Fort Bragg by their husbands, recently returned from serving in Afghanistan, are they 'collateral damage'? Past wars are already haunting us, and this future war will come home in many ways. In any war the enemy combatant, the shadow, looks a hell of a lot like us." 6
bullet Multiple causes: "Max" at suggested that it is simplistic to look for a single motivation for the sniper attacks: "If I had to profile this sort of thing, I'd look for the intersection of such factors as: a prior history of violence or problems with the law; adherence to a relatively uncommon religious or political view; association with an isolated, extremist organization requiring total commitment of one's time and resources; and a background of failure in the military." 7
bullet Religion: We will deal with this possibility in more detail because this web site has a religious theme. Muhammad very definitely considers himself to be a Muslim. But that fact alone would not make him an Islamic terrorist. Otherwise, Timothy McVeigh should be considered a Christian terrorist, and David Berkowitz -- the Son of Sam killer -- could be labeled a Jewish terrorist. Muhammad was active in Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, apparently helping with security. However "traditional Islam and the Nation of Islam have very little in common; Islam and Judaism are, in fact, more closely related than Islam and the Nation of Islam." 8 In spite of this rather vague connection between a sniper suspect and Islam, several politically conservative commentators have suggested a link between the killings and Muslim terrorism. According to an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
bullet "New York Times columnist William Safire, [has]...tried to depict Muhammad as part of the great Islamic dagger aimed at the heart and soul of America."
bullet Daniel Pipes "has accused the news media of having 'shut their eyes' to Muhammad's jihadic spree. 'When Muslims engage in terrorism against Americans,' Pipes wrote, 'the guiding presumption must be that they see themselves as warriors in a jihad against the Great Satan.' "
bullet Mark Steyn wrote "When two Muslim males embark on a clinical, unprovoked campaign of infidel-killing, 'possible terrorism' also seems a reasonable conclusion. It doesn't matter whether they were acting on orders or simply improvising."
bullet The Atlanta Journal editorial concluded: "Such rhetoric is nonsense. It smacks of fear-mongering, of an effort to frighten an already anxious populace into accepting anti-Islamic policies that it would otherwise never tolerate. It is terrorism by another means."

On the other hand "Max" at commented on the lack of a connection to Islam: "The murderers are neither Middle Eastern, 'olive skinned,' nor Islamic fundamentalist. There is no indication that the killers had ever set foot in one of those notorious Saudi-subsidized Islamic schools in the U.S. The NOI [Nation of Islam] brand of Islam is distinct from the [Fundamentalist] Wahhabi variety tied to the 9-11 terrorists." 7

While it may be interesting challenge to speculate what motivation was behind the mass killing, it is quite impossible at this stage to reach any solid conclusion. There is simply not enough information currently available to the public.

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  1. "Sniper Deserves 'Ultimate Sanction,' Ashcroft Says," 2002-NOV-7, at:,2933,69373,00.html
  2. "Raw Data: The Muhammad Files," Fox News, 2002-NOV-1, at:,2933,66639,00.html
  3. "Sniper suspects may be tied to Maryland, Arizona cases," The Seattle Times, 2002=-NOV-6, at:
  4. "Sniper Suspect's Ex-Wife Links Killings to Custody Fight," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-8, at:,2933,69538,00.html
  5. "Snipers an 'Army Veteran' & 'Jamaican Teenager'," CyberAlert, 2002-OCT-25, at:
  6. "Spooky," "Cyber-Scheherazade," 2002-OCT-25, at: http://www.cybersheherazade
  7. "10/25/2002 Archived Entry: 'The drumbeat of religious bigotry'.", 2002-OCT-25, at:
  8. "Sniper wasn't shooting for Islam," Editorial, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2002-NOV-8. at:
  9. "Gay secret that made snipers kill," The National Enquirer, 2002-NOV-12, Pages 34, 35 & 37. Online at

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

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Copyright 2002 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-NOV-9
Latest update: 2002-NOV-9
Author: B.A. Robinson

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