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Muslim pleads guilty to killing Jewish friend

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Houston (Texas)
Saudi Arabia

HOUSTON, Texas (Reuters) -- A Saudi Arabian student has pleaded guilty to killing his Jewish friend, in a case tinged by world politics and U.S. security, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Mohammed Ali Alayed, 23, faces up to 60 years in prison after admitting in court on Monday that he slashed the throat of Ariel Sellouk on August 6.

Defense attorney George Parnham told Reuters he did not know the motive for the killing, in which Sellouk was nearly decapitated, but said religious differences were likely a factor.

"I can't help but believe this was an element, but how strong an element is totally up to speculation," said Parnham.

Alayed was in the United States on a student visa and became friends with Sellouk, a Jew of Moroccan descent, while the two attended Houston Community College, the Houston Chronicle reported.

They spent time together at local bars and socializing with women until about a year before the killing, when Alayed ended ties with Sellouk after a religious reawakening that led him to adopt a more conservative, Islamic lifestyle, authorities say.

Then, in August, Alayed contacted Sellouk again, they went to a bar and ended up at Alayed's apartment, where Alayed sliced Sellouk's throat. Alayed then went to a nearby mosque, authorities said.

Parnham said he recommended a plea bargain because he felt Alayed likely would be found guilty and get a life sentence, or 99 years in prison, due in part to the post-September 11 climate.

"I think the whole dynamics of our present situation did not bode well for a defendant of Muslim heritage and a victim of Jewish heritage," he said.

Adding to his sense of foreboding, he said, was the fact that Homeland Security agents showed up at the jail to talk to Alayed without notifying Parnham and without his being present.

"I find that disturbing because these are the very types of things we are fighting to keep intact, the right to counsel and of counsel confidentiality," Parnham said.

"We have the dreaded knock in the middle of the night from Homeland Security, unbeknownst even to local law enforcement."

Homeland Security detective Bill Moore, who made the jailhouse visit to Alayed, told Reuters that Parnham was not contacted because the agency talked to his client about "jail security" issues that had nothing to do with the case.

"We routinely go over and interview inmates in the jail about matters not related to the case," he said. And they routinely do not tell the inmates' lawyers, he said.

Parnham said Alayed would be sentenced in April and he hopes by then Alayed's parents can come over from Saudi Arabia to testify on their son's behalf. They have not been able to come to his aid because they have been unable to obtain a U.S. visa, he said.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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