Muslim suspect espoused violence

May 31, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- A former Nation of Islam minister who clashed with fellow Muslims had a small arsenal, including a hunting rifle with a scope, when he allegedly shot black nationalist Khallid Abdul Muhammad and five other men outside a university auditorium, authorities said yesterday.

A gunman opened fire just after Mr. Muhammad finished a speech on the University of California campus.

Mr. Muhammad -- a former Nation of Islam spokesman known for his fiery anti-Jewish, anti-white rhetoric -- was shot in the legs. He and a bodyguard were reported in stable condition.

Four other bodyguards were treated and released.

Law enforcement authorities said they have not ruled out a conspiracy in the shooting but believe the suspect, James Edward Bess, 49, was acting alone. Investigators have not offered a motive.

People familiar with the suspect described Mr. Bess as a contentious figure and a devotee of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Bess had been removed as a leader of the Seattle-area mosque.

He once wrote an open letter in a black community newspaper criticizing the mayor of Seattle for denouncing remarks by Minister Farrakhan.

On another occasion, he told television viewers in Seattle, where he frequently appeared on public access TV, that violence was the way to deal with black leaders who let down the black community.

"If this false leadership continues I won't be surprised to see the same thing as happened in South Africa, where the black woman was hacked to death with a ax and . . . thrown on a fire and burned up," Mr. Bess said. "Matter of fact, I think that's what needs to take place with this leadership. They ought to be doused with gasoline and burned in public."

A former top aide to Minister Farrakhan, Mr. Muhammad had been one of his most vituperative lieutenants until a verbal assault on Jews, Arabs and whites provoked denunciations by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, black members of Congress and President Clinton, leading to his suspension.

Despite his suspension, Mr. Muhammad has publicly remained so loyal to Minister Farrakhan that many wonder if he continues to speak for Minister Farrakhan. He says only that they remain in contact but adds, "We don't have the closeness that we had."

The shooting Sunday night occurred despite tight security inside the University of California, Riverside, auditorium during his two-hour speech. The 500 members of the audience were frisked as they entered the room. In addition to two city police officers, about 50 members of the Fruit of Islam -- the security arm of the nation of Islam -- were present.

Mr. Muhammad drew cheers during his speech when he described whites as satanic and Jews as oppressors. In a speech in Los Angeles Saturday, Mr. Muhammad referred to Jews as "bagel-eating" and "hook-nosed" and contended that "the black holocaust is 100 times worse than any other holocaust".

But police and university spokesmen spokesman said that security personnel were caught by surprise when Mr. Muhammad left the podium and said he would continue to field questions outside.

When he appeared, Mr. Muhammad, 43, was hit in both legs by shots fired from a 9mm handgun. One bodyguard, Cakliph Saduik, 33, was shot in the upper right back. Another guard, Barnado Puckett, 34, was shot three times. Terrell D. Strait, 20, was shot in the left shoulder and stomach. Steve L. Washington received a minor gunshot injury, and Thomas L. Harri had a minor gunshot graze to the back.

Mr. Bess was was severely beaten by a crowd of people who had witnessed the shooting. Authorities said he suffered a fractured shoulder, multiple abrasions and lost teeth.

Riverside police reported yesterday that they confiscated not only the 9mm handgun alleged used in the shooting but also found a backpack containing two other guns and a hunting rifle in Mr. Bess' car, which was parked nearby.

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