Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Afghani Immigrant Charged In SUV Rampage

Details about the driver in the San Francisco SUV rampage are trickling in. He was, apparently, Omeed Aziz Popal, an Afghani living with his parents in Fremont, California. There is no indication of how religious he was, if at all.

Popal had recently returned from Kabul, where he celebrated his arranged marriage. According to family and neighbors, that was the only new stress in his life. A cousin suggests he has a history of mental illness -- specifically that he was deathly afraid of the devil -- but other relatives and the police discount that. Nothing in the testimony of relatives and neighbors suggests why he went on the rampage, be the reason political, religious, or simple insanity. The only statement that begins to shed light on Popal's mental circumstance is from his next-door neighbor:

Popal was usually friendly but wasn't talkative lately, [Frank] Silva said. "It seemed like since he got married he quieted down," he said.

When Popal was arrested, he was eerily indifferent to his circumstance:
Moments later, the Pilot roared through a red light and turned left, narrowly missing a man as he crossed the street at California and Spruce.

"It was just by a couple of inches," said architect Jeremy Warms. "Then the car came down the opposite way down Spruce and the police converged in on him all at once."

Warms said the police blocked the man's path and he heard a crashing sound -- police said one officer was slightly injured in the collision. Then the officers pulled the man out of the car and sat him down on the curb.

"He looked calm and pretty clean-cut, like a normal guy," Warms said. "He sat on the pavement for a good 25 minutes ... I don't think anyone said anything to him. They put him in a police car and took him away."

The office manager at a dental office at 500 Spruce St., who identified herself only as Kira, saw the arrest from a second-floor window.

"They dragged him out and put him on the ground. They got him up. He was absolutely indifferent, no fear, no expression. He was like a zombie."

She said he was bald, with a mustache, wearing a gray sport jacket. He showed no sign of injury. Police identified him as Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, of Fremont, and said he would be booked on 14 counts of attempted murder.

UPDATE: Ed Driscoll and Hugh Hewitt are both picking up on the possibility this may be an anti-Semitic hate crime. Two of the victims were pedestrians outside a Jewish center in San Francisco. Without dismissing the possibility, if this were motivated by anything other than narcissistic stress, it was probably general anti-Americanism, as his behavior suggests he was looking for any target possible, not Jewish targets in particular. As I said earlier, however, it's pathetic that Americans are reduced to reading news accounts the way the citizens of the Soviet Union once did: all tea leaves, no facts.

Ironically, the Washington Post runs a feature today on a new magazine that presents Afghan culture to the children of Afghan immigrants. Most of the target market are families probably like the Popals: people who fled the Soviet occupation 20+ years ago.
As Aman Feda, 32, tells it, many of them were well-educated professionals who scraped by as taxi drivers and beauticians when they arrived. They've raised doctors, engineers and now publishers. But calming the political tensions they brought with them, reconciling Muslim tradition with American lifestyles, and easing the resulting strain between generations proved tougher than the financial challenges they faced.

I don't think the Popals were quite that successful, and maybe that was the son's problem.

UPDATE 2: The Mercury News has more details about Omeed Popal and his family:
Friends and relatives said Popal had been hearing voices since returning a month ago from Afghanistan.

"He thought the devil was coming for him,'' said Zarghona Ramish of San Jose, who also identified herself as Popal's cousin.

A stressful event triggers a madness.
Afghan community leader Farid Younos said Popal comes from a "decent, pious and respectful" family, devout members of the Abu Bakr Siddiq Mosque in Hayward.

So now the obvious question: has that particular mosque been known to preach radical Islam? No tea leaves in the story to help us answer, so we'll just have to wait.
"It's very bad, very bad. We're very sad about it," said Younos, a California State University-East Bay anthropology professor.


He was born in Afghanistan but came to the United States at a young age. Three months ago, he returned to his home country to marry, relatives said, and his wife's family was very traditional and strict.

"He grew up as a Western boy in the United States and went to Afghanistan to get married culturally over there," [first cousin Hamid] Nekrawesh said.

Nekrawesh wondered if the stress of the trip and the culture shock affected Popal, especially since Afghan weddings are large, and he comes from a large extended family.

The bride's family didn't let the couple meet or talk before the wedding, Nekrawesh said.

"The only thing would be some kind of mental pressure," Nekrawesh said, adding that Popal seemed happy before leaving for Kabul. "The lifestyle is very different in Afghanistan."

This is why modern, Westernized societies are superior to other cultures: it is inhuman to put two people through a marriage like that.

UPDATE 3: Clarity & Resolve points to a video linked by JihadWatch, in which a female witness reports Popal proclaimed himself a terrorist shortly after his arrest. I think this clarifies the moral principle quite well: "[A]n act of random violence by someone who declares himself a terrorist is terrorism even if he lacks a laminated Al-Qaeda ID."

UPDATE 4: Popal may need a new lawyer. His current attorney, Majeed Samara, was retained by the family. He says he's only handling the matter until the public defender steps in. He has not yet been able to see his client.

Samarra made a comment that makes me quite curious:
Millbrae attorney Majeed Samara said that according to Popal's father, Popal has not been the same since waking up from a bad dream six months ago.

His family once took Popal, 29, of Fremont, to a Kaiser Permanente facility in Fremont for treatment of his mental health issues, Samara said. He also said Popal disappeared for three days last week without telling anyone where he was going.

Samarra notes that Popal will need "a lot of doctors."

The family has become less than sympathetic in my eyes:
The attorney retained by the family of Omeed Aziz Popal, the driver suspected of killing a Fremont man and injuring 14 San Francisco pedestrians in a hit-and-run spree on Tuesday, said today that Popal's family is terrified for him, for the victims and for themselves.

It would be nice to hear them express sorrow for the victims undiluted by self-regard. I'm going to be extremely generous and understand "terrified...for themselves" to mean they are terrified in a general, what-do-we-do-now sort of way, and not that their terrified by what other Americans might do in response.

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