Last week, I woke up to news reports that someone was taken into custody near the Pentagon after a suspicious device was found in his car. Three major thoroughfares were shut down as police investigated. The initial reports included plenty of errors. For instance, no suspicious device was found in a car! Reports that others fled the scene also washed out. The device that "looks like a bomb"? Who knows. The "controlled explosion" they were going to do with the car? It didn't happen. Early reporting is difficult to do and all of the "officials" spouting nonsense don't help.
Anyway, since I live not far from the Pentagon, I followed the changing reports throughout the day and the week that followed. Yonathan Melaku, an immigrant from Ethiopia, was the man taken into custody.
There are quite a few Ethiopian immigrants in this area (and we have the best Ethiopian food in the country, in case you're wondering) and most of them are Christian. Most of the Christians are Ethiopian Orthodox although you'll also find other Christians in the mix. My Lutheran congregation includes some Ethiopians. So I was intrigued to find out more about his religious views. The name -- Yonathan -- certainly sounded Christian but I wanted to learn more.
And that's been a problem. What is is his religion?
We did learn that a notebook with words such as "al-Qaeda," "Taliban," and "mujahideen" was found in the car but "officials" downplayed the significance. The picture of Melaku showed him wearing a slight beard. I don't know if that comes into play or not.
We were told, by a nameless official in the Washington Post that this might all be "mental health" as opposed to terrorism:
"This looks like a whole big bunch of nothing,'' said the official, who added that "the general consensus is that it might be some type of mental issue with the guy.''
I wondered the same thing on account of how Melaku had been arrested the month prior for breaking into a bunch of cars out in Loudon County. Not the savviest criminal mastermind.
But yesterday, the news reported that the feds believe Melaku is responsible for a string of attacks on military institutions last year. Here's the Associated Press:
A Marine reservist who was detained during a security scare near the Pentagon last week has been linked to the shootings last year at the Marine Corps museum in Quantico and several D.C.-area military recruitment stations, officials said Wednesday.
And I really am curious what's going on here and whether Melaku's religion played a role. There are a few stories from days ago that either claim he's Muslim or suggest he's Muslim. This International Business Times report, for instance, includes this line:
Even as police are investigating if a 22-year-old military man arrested near the Pentagon in suspicious circumstances belonged to any jihadi network or was acting alone, the focus has turned to the old debate of Muslim personnel’s role in the US military.
This Fox News report from right after the initial arrest said:
Melaku, a Marine Corps reservist lance corporal who is Muslim, remains in the custody of the United States Park Police.
But the report didn't say how they knew he is Muslim. How did Fox News get this information and if it's true, why isn't anyone else reporting on his religion?
I am not trying to be pedantic. I mean, I get that he had the al Qaeda stuff and that it would be highly irregular to find such material on someone who is not Muslim. But that name just sounds so Christian, doesn't it? Either he is a Muslim terrorist, and we should be getting much, much, much more information about that. Or he isn't what we'd call a "Muslim terrorist." By that I mean he either isn't Muslim or isn't motivated as a terrorist so much as mental health issues.
Why aren't reporters more curious about this? I did a search of CNN, ABC, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS and FOX News sites for "Yonathan Melaku Muslim." Only Fox showed any hits. I did the same search for "Yonathan Melaku Christian" and I got no hits.
Now, this guy isn't some total mystery. He's a local man, with a record, and an address. He's a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. I mean, there must be tons of people who could give some insight into his motivations or mental health or what not. So I'm a bit disappointed with the outlets above for failing to probe the religion issue and for Fox for not explaining how they "learned" he was Muslim.
UPDATE: The Washington Post has an update about Melaku today. We still don't learn if he's Muslim but we do get this tidbit:
A 22-year-old Alexandria man has been charged with shooting at military buildings in the D.C. region last fall, and federal officials said in court papers that he videotaped himself shouting “Allah Akbar” after he fired shots at the U.S. Marine Corps museum in October.
He shouted what?