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Accused Sniper Lived in Antigua

October 26, 2002

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ST. JOHN’S, Antigua (AP) _ When John Allen Muhammad’s life started unraveling, he sought refuge in Antigua _ living in a sparsely furnished room while boasting of being a CIA agent and sharpshooter who could ``take out a man″ from a quarter of a mile.

To get a passport in the former British colony, Muhammad, one of two people charged in the Washington-area sniper attacks, apparently presented a falsified Louisiana birth certificate, claiming his mother was Antiguan.

On the Caribbean island, Muhammad was known for taking neighborhood kids for early-morning runs.

To former neighbor Randy Nelson, the 41-year-old Army veteran was a miracle worker who got his aging pickup truck back on the road and gave him blank CDs and batteries.

``He was a very nice guy around me,″ Nelson said.

Still, Nelson said he was ``shocked but not that surprised″ when he heard Muhammad was a suspect in the sniper attacks.

``The very first time I met him, right here on this porch, he pointed his hand like a gun at a man standing in the windows of the hospital over there and said he could take out a man, could hit anybody, from that range,″ Nelson said, indicating a building nearly a quarter-mile away.

He said they discussed guns after Muhammad told him he was in the Army and claimed to have worked with the FBI and CIA.

Nelson said Muhammad’s ambition was to become a modern Robin Hood, ``He said he wanted to take from the rich and give to the poor because the way people were living was unfair.″

But he never saw Muhammad angry or violent.

``He was a very calm man,″ Nelson said.

Muhammad was born John Allen Williams in Baton Rouge, La. His mother died and his father was not around, so his grandmother and an aunt raised him, said his cousin, Edward Holiday.

He enlisted in the Army in 1985, the year he converted to Islam and changed his name. After serving in the Gulf War, Muhammad was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 1994.

Then his life started unraveling: He and his wife divorced and his attempt to run a karate school failed.

Muhammad came to Antigua on May 20, 2001, with three children from his failed second marriage, according to Col. Clyde Walker, Antigua’s chief immigration officer.

John Lee Malvo, the 17-year-old who also was charged in the sniper attacks, was living in Antigua at the time with his mother, Una James.

Muhammad seemed to have a warm relationship with the three young children from his marriage to Mildred Muhammad, said Nelson, the former neighbor.

``Those kids loved him,″ he said. ``When he came to pick them up from school, they would run to meet him and all three would hug him.″

The principal of the local elementary school, Janet Harris, agreed. He was ``a loving father, very compassionate and genuine,″ she said.

Muhammad rented a room in a wooden home with an unkempt yard on the outskirts of St. John’s.

Nelson said that when he saw how sparsely the room was furnished, he asked Muhammad where he slept.

``He said he usually slept sitting in this plastic chair, and the children shared the little bed.″

Nelson, who runs a barber shop and helps manage a supermarket, said he worried about Muhammad’s income. Muhammad had told him he was getting a job training security guards, and Antiguan officials confirmed he had applied to teach sports at schools.

Instead, Nelson said, Muhammad was an itinerant salesman, buying CDs and batteries on frequent trips to the United States, which he would resell.

Antigua’s immigration office had no record of Muhammad’s departure. Nelson said he saw him last in March.

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