Memphian Melvin Bledsoe spoke to the nation Thursday, telling a congressional panel and an overflow hearing room that Islamic “hunters” brainwashed his son, Carlos, who went on to kill a military recruiter in Little Rock, and wounded another.
Apologizing to the families of those his son shot in 2009, Bledsoe said he wanted to talk about those complicit in the crime — “Islamic radicals who programmed and trained my son, Carlos, to kill.”
Bledsoe was the fifth of seven witnesses in a more than four-hour hearing on the “radicalization” of domestic Muslims and the response of the Muslim community called by Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.
Bledsoe, 55, said he knew something was wrong with his son when he announced he’d converted to Islam while away at Tennessee State University in Nashville and took down the picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that hung on his bedroom wall.
“All of this was part of brainwashing him and changing his thinking a bit at a time,” Bledsoe testified. Eventually, with help from a mosque in Nashville, according to his father, son Carlos Bledsoe — by then renamed Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad — went to Yemen and ended up in “a training camp run by terrorists.”
Bledsoe’s testimony was a high point in a day of drama and theatrics.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, whose Mississippi district includes Tunica, wondered why the scope of the hearings on extremist violence was so narrowly focused on a religious minority, and why it didn’t include “the homeland security threat posed by anti-government and white supremacist groups.”
In his opening statement, King downplayed the controversy over the hearings. “There is no equivalency between al-Qaida and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen,” King said. “Only al-Qaida and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation.”
King noted that a Pew Poll found 15 percent of Muslim-American men between the ages of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombing. “This is the segment of the community al-Qaida is attempting to recruit,” King said.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., one of two Muslims in Congress, testified as a witness. He said he feared the hearings could be used to promote stereotypes and scapegoats of Muslims and could threaten the nation’s security. He broke down in tears describing a Pakistani-American firefighter, Mohammed Salman Hamdani, killed during the Sept. 11 attacks, who was maligned by some as being involved in the terrorism plot — until his body was recovered.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called the hearings “an outrage” and U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., called their narrow scope “an abuse of power.”
Republicans made a subtheme of the hearing the danger posed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, widely known as CAIR, an organization that highlights discrimination against Muslim Americans. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., testifying as a witness, first raised suspicions and Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., followed up by calling CAIR “a terrorist organization sponsored by Hamas,” the Palestinian organization elected to govern Gaza that has terrorist roots.
Several members of the committee questioned why the dramatic anecdotal evidence given by Bledsoe and Abdirizak Bihi, the uncle of 17-year-old Burhan Hassan, who went to Somalia to join the jihad and was killed, needed to receive such attention.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked witness Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, how he came to be an expert in violent Islamism. Speier said that although she is a practicing Roman Catholic, she claims no expertise of pedophile priests.
King, taking note of the criticism he has weathered in calling the hearing, asked Bledsoe for his explanation of the animus.
“As you can see, a lot of people are still in denial,” Bledsoe said. He said he wanted to talk to the American people so that children like his 9-month-old grandson “don’t get caught up in that same trap.”
Both Bledsoe and Bihi spoke of the lack of cooperation they got from the mosques their relatives belonged to, with Bledsoe saying he never got an apology from the Al-Farooq Mosque in Nashville, whose former imam wrote his son’s letter of recommendation to go to Yemen, he said.
Mohamed-Shukri Hassan, a spokesman for the mosque, contacted by phone Thursday evening, said that Carlos Bledsoe was “just a normal kid and, all of a sudden, he disappeared.” He said the mosque had no role in his going to Yemen and cooperated with federal authorities when they made inquiries.
Carlos Bledsoe is awaiting trial for murder in Arkansas.