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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview with Former Business Associate of John Allen Muhammad

Aired October 24, 2002 - 09:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's come back to Montgomery, Alabama. We have Brian Cabell live there, who also watched this news conference. The chief there made an interesting comment when he talked about the composite sketch in this murder case, and we will put the composite sketch up now, and then let our viewers make a reference to the head shot now that had been released of one of the alleged sniping victims. I can't see it on the screen right, so I guess they are not able to make the comparison, but at some point, our audience is going to be able to see these two shots. And the police chief said, "There was a good similarity."
How striking was that to you at a time when he's saying he's not even sure why the sniper investigators -- or he got a call from the task force in the first place?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Paula, I think you highlighted the two most important statements he made during this press conference. Number one, the composite, he said, was not unlike the picture of Mr. Malvo. And secondly, the fact that he said, yes, we would like to talk with him.

So he's certainly hint that possibly that their may be a connection between the two men who held up this liquor store about five weeks ago and shot two women, one of them to death, and one of the alleged snipers in Washington D.C.

He did shoot down a couple of stories that we have been hearing, as you mentioned the bullet, as my understanding, he said it was not a .223. He said that pretty unconditionally, it was not a .223. He was assured by the ATF it was a different caliber of bullet.

And also he mentioned the credit card. There have been rumors flying about, as you probably know, Paula, over the last couple of days that somehow a credit card may have been taken from one of the victims here, and somehow that credit card had a connection with a note Washington, D.C., and he said, absolutely not.

So he refuted a couple of theories that we have been hearing. But certainly his interest in the composite sketch and the fact they would like to talk to Malvo certainly indicates he thinks there might be some sort of tie between Malvo and what happened here on September 21st, when two men were literally shot down in front of the store right here behind me as they were closing up the store.

ZAHN: Brian, I was also struck by one of the questions that led the investigator to take on the question, "Do you believe these victims were a victim of a robbery?" Now, we should say that the woman who survived has been interviewed by the local newspaper, and she talked about the gunmen approaching her, never saying anything to her or her friend who ended up dying, saying, "That's why I don't think it was a robbery attempt. He didn't talk us to, he didn't approach us. He went through my purse, but he didn't take anything." The chief, when asked the question, "What was taken?" didn't have much to say, did he? But he still didn't characterize it as a robbery? Or he did characterize it as a robbery?

CABELL: Yes, he said he wanted to consider it a robbery, but he didn't indicate whether anything was taken from him or what was taken from them. Of course it could have been an attempted robbery and it was foiled and the young man had to flee. Apparently he fled on foot a considerable distance, and he was seen by a policeman probably about 100, 200 yard away. But yes, he said he still considers it a robbery, although it is possible that nothing was taken. Yes, the circumstances surrounding the particular incident are strange, I have to admit.

ZAHN: I know that you have been talking this morning about the extensive search done at the ground zero USA sight, which is a paramilitary camp in Maryland. I was surprised to hear the police chief say he didn't even find out about this search until this morning.

Is there any indication at this hour why that search was conducted not too far from where you are this morning?

CABELL: It is a different jurisdiction, a different county, and rumors were flying about that camp just really yesterday. So I'm not all that surprised that he doesn't know much about, and he's certainly not involved in it.

And, frankly, all we know is that the FBI was there in the last 24 hours or so. Even though, as we said before, the owner of that camp disclaimed any knowledge of the search or a search warrant. So that's a little murky at this point, and that's a good hour, hour and a half away from us. We may head there later on today, but the last we have heard, nobody was over there, but the FBI has been there, and exactly why, frankly, at this point, we don't know.

One other point. The question was raised to whether Malvo lived here at any point, the chief of course didn't want to touch that at that point.

ZAHN: All right, Brian, thanks for the wrap-up there.

Right now, we're going to turn our attention to Felix Strozier, who is a friend of one of the men being held, being called a suspect being called in the sniper investigation, John Allen Muhammad. Before I talk with Mr. Strozier, I just wanted to share with you some of the reporting in "The Seattle Times" this morning, where several federal sources said that John Allen Muhammad and his stepson may have been motivated by anti-American sentiment post-September 11th.

Both were known, according to "The Seattle Times," to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States on September 11th.

Mr. Strozier, how long have you known John Allen Muhammad?

FELIX STROZIER, FMR. BUSINESS ASSOC.: About seven years now.

ZAHN: And how did you meet him, sir?

STROZIER: We was business partners. We opened a martial arts school together.

ZAHN: And did he work closely with you?

STROZIER: At first here, did. And he had an express car and truck mechanic. He was a mechanic, so he worked on cars, and I ran the school.

ZAHN: What kind of a person was he?

STROZIER: Well, he seemed to be pretty nice person. He was quiet, but couple of times I saw him get upset. So I knew it was a different side to him. And at first, the relationship was fine, and he borrowed some money from the school fund and never paid it back, so we kind of fell out about that.

ZAHN: How much money did he take? Borrow and not return?

STROZIER: $500.

ZAHN: $500. Now, when you say he used to get upset and you saw a different side of him, what was it that triggered the anger?

STROZIER: The much -- the right thing versus the wrong thing.

ZAHN: And what do you mean by that? I am not sure I understand that.

STROZIER: Well, one time I saw him get upset, because his son wasn't doing something. So he made his son cry.

ZAHN: And was this -- the stepson, John Lee Malvo, or one of his other children?

STROZIER: No, this was little John. Little John was four years old. You know, personally, I thought, you know, he was a little hard on him, but John was -- little John was an excellent student.

ZAHN: There is an interesting report that is emerging of this man in "The Seattle Times," describing him as a Muslim convert. One of the local papers saying he converted, I guess, about 17 years ago after he got divorced. They also say that he was a man who had gone through at least two wives, this is the "Seattle Times" again, had bitter custody battles over his children, and a neighbor described him as being friendly, but also being a control freak who kidnapped his own children. Were you aware of any of this?

STROZIER: No. No, I wasn't. But I know he was manipulative. You know, he would do anything to get his way.

ZAHN: You said he joined you as a partner in the martial arts school and he was involved in the beginning, and then I guess got more involved in this mechanics business of his. How good was he at martial arts?

STROZIER: Well, he didn't study, just his kids. What he did was I started teaching little John, and he saw how good I was doing with little John, so he came to me one day, and said, you know, why don't you open up a school? And he asked me to train some Muslim brothers, and so I was supposed to train a lot of them, but it never happened.

ZAHN: When is the last time you saw John Allen Muhammad?

STROZIER: It's been a couple of years. I saw him at one of the local markets, fruit markets, here in Tacoma.

ZAHN: And, obviously, you haven't seen him post-September 11th, when federal sources I guess have been told by some that he was motivated by anti-American sentiment. Did you every hear him make negative comments by people who practiced other religions from his own?

STROZIER: No. But I know that he was the type that would have opinions about something like that.

ZAHN: What did you think this morning when you heard the news that he is in fact being considered one of the two suspects in this whole horrible sniping spree in the Washington D.C. area?

STROZIER: Well, you know, it gave me goosebumps. As a matter of fact, I still have goosebumps now. It's sort of scary knowing that someone that I knew and was so close to would actually do something like this.

ZAHN: And you are also aware that maybe he had -- not maybe, but according to law enforcement had an outstanding arrest warrant for shoplifting. Is that anything that would have surprised you, given the fact he you say he borrowed $500 and never returned it?

STROZIER: Yes, it's very surprising, very surprising. Something like that I was thinking on the ride home, he would have killed his son, little John, if he thought of doing something like. So, to me, that's totally out of character for him.

ZAHN: And once again, the only time you saw anger existed is when you witnessed him thinking one of his kids hadn't done the right thing?

STROZIER: Right, right. But you know, there was a few times that, you know, he would talk about certain things that was going on in the world. I knew he was a strong believer in the Muslims, and he went to the Million Man March.

ZAHN: OK. And did he ever talk about his Gulf War experience, because he was a Gulf War veteran? STROZIER: Only thing that I can really know recall him saying, because I was a martial arts instructor and he was an investor, that he was the best at what he'd done.

ZAHN: And when he said that, do you know what he was talking about? Because he wasn't trained as a sniper, he was not in the special forces, but he did have some expertise in combat support missions?

STROZIER: Well, from my understanding, I remember him saying that he was special forces. He made me think that he was special forces.

ZAHN: And when you said he talked about being the best at what he did, did he ever elaborate on that?

STROZIER: No, no, -- no, he was talking about the military when he spoke of that.

ZAHN: It's not clear why he left the military. Did he ever mention to you that he wasn't happy about the way things ended with his service?

STROZIER: No, he never mentioned the service, but he did show some unhappiness with his stepson's mother.

ZAHN: Stepson's mother. That would be John Malvo...

STROZIER: Yes, right.

ZAHN: Right, can you tell us what he said?

STROZIER: If I recall right, it was just that he was going to try to get custody of him, because she was -- she had -- was calling the police on him or something for child support. But she was just in his head.

ZAHN: Did you ever meet John Lee Malvo, his stepson?

STROZIER: Yes, I taught him martial arts.

ZAHN: And what did you think of him?

STROZIER: Sometimes a little bit too aggressive with the smaller kids, and when I tried to bring it to his attention, he also tried to be aggressive with me, but when I put him in his place, he sometimes -- he would sort of bow his head and sometime he even cry. He was a teen at that time.

ZAHN: Now, you said you haven't seen either one of these guys in a couple years. How long do you think that John Lee was at the time if he's now 17?

STROZIER: He was 13.

ZAHN: He was 13. STROZIER: 13.

ZAHN: And when he tried to be aggressive with you, what did that involve?

STROZIER: Punching too hard, just being too aggressive. He would just try to punch too hard.

ZAHN: And when you said he cried, was that after you told him to back off?

STROZIER: No, that was after I punched him back.

ZAHN: Oh, OK. I am getting the full picture here.

Just a final thought on the fact that police think they have the two snipers and the sniper spree is over.

STROZIER: What I do think?

ZAHN: Yes? Are you relieved? And you can believe that these two men that you -- or the father, that you were once in business with, is the man who is now being called a suspect in the sniper case?

STROZIER: It's scary. I'm trying to come to grips with it. But I could see where he would involve the son like that. That's really outrageous.

ZAHN: Well, Mr. Strozier, we appreciate your time this morning, and I know it is early out there. Thank you again for joining us this morning.

STROZIER: You bet you, thank you very much.

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