*** Disenfranchisement, feelings of inferiority, no job - the list goes on. This problem will quickly get out of hand if there is no systematic effort to counter the rhetoric of the extremists. MS ***
HEMPSTEAD — Barry Bujol Jr., the man accused of trying to aid al-Qaida terrorists, and his wife were a reserved couple, neighbors said, who became devout Muslims about four years ago and who occasionally expressed feelings of disenfranchisement as black Americans.
“They'd talk about white people always wanting to overpower everything,” recalled Cindy Celis, a nearby neighbor in a subsidized apartment complex. “But they prayed three times a day, kept to themselves and never caused any trouble. They have a 6-month-old baby and a 2-year-old, and our children often played together.”
The 29-year-old Bujol is in federal custody, accused of trying to provide terrorists with global positioning instruments, cell phones and a restricted publication on the effects of U.S. military weapons in Afghanistan. Authorities said he had been exchanging e-mails with the charismatic cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, the native-born U.S. citizen who also was in communication with the man accused in the 2009 mass killings at Fort Hood, Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan.
Those accusations surprised relatives, including Bujol's aunt, Beverly Bujol. Reached at her home in Kenner, La., she recalled her nephew once toyed with giving himself a Muslim name, but she said she had no idea he was apparently using a dozen other aliases. The last his father heard from his son was a recent letter that included a picture of the new baby, she said.
‘We never dreamed … '
She described her nephew as “bright but moody.”
“We never dreamed he could be a terrorist of any kind,” she said.
None of Barry Bujol's three siblings, who reside in the Dallas area; nor his late mother, Sandra Platt; nor his father, were ever Muslim, she said.
When Bujol Jr. decided to change his faith, she said, “We didn't think much about it. We just thought he saw things different.”
Bujol had once been a student at Prairie View A&M but had not been enrolled for the last year and a half, although investigators allege he once used the computers at the school's library for e-mailing.
The university's police chief, Algray Pettus, issued a statement expressing full cooperation with the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force, but declined to say what if anything was found on the school's computers. “We take this matter very seriously,” he said.
Watched for past 2 years
Neighbors said Bujol Jr. had his own laptop and also spent hours on computers at WorkSource Solutions on U.S. 290 in Waller. The program, funded through the Texas Workforce Commission, provides computer access and other assistance for job searches.
The FBI, who had Bujol under surveillance for the last two years and had even placed a camera in his apartment, said they never saw any evidence of gainful employment by either Bujol or his wife, Ernestine Johnson.
At their home on Friday, Johnson, dressed in traditional Muslim garb — a long black dress and gray head scarf — shooed bystanders off her front porch when she returned to her apartment. Asked if she would tell her side of the story, she replied “no” before closing and locking her door.
No criminal arrests
Margie McDade, a neighbor, said she saw Bujol using the WorkSource computers many days until the offices closed for more than a year.
“He'd be on Yahoo. I kept wondering if he was cheating on his woman or what,” she said. “You are supposed to stay on sites that are job related.”
Misty Blaylock, a resource room specialist there, said she monitors computer use, but someone checking an e-mail would not draw suspicion.
Bujol had no previous criminal arrests. Twice last year when he was arrested by the Waller County Sheriff's Office for driving with a suspended license, said the chief deputy, John Kremmer.
He also was picked up in New Jersey for a suspended license during one of his three unsuccessful attempts to travel to Yemen and other spots in the Middle East.
Wife charged with fraud
He and his wife were detained at a Houston airport on an outstanding traffic warrant in February 2009. They had booked tickets to travel to Yemen.
Ernestine Johnson's cell phone has been confiscated. She has not been charged with terrorist activity. She is charged, along with her husband, with fraud for allegedly conspiring to obtain housing subsidies.
Investigators say their rent had been reduced from $715 a month to only $6, because the husband claimed to be earning $75 a week from a bogus window washing company.
After his arrest, a dozen mostly unmarked cars swooped down on Bujol's Pine Meadows apartment off U.S. 290 and yellow crime scene tape was stretched across the front door.
“At first, we thought somebody had been murdered, or maybe it was a drug bust,” said Sharon Moore, a resident.
“But the next day everyone was appalled to learn a terrorist could be living next door.”