RAEFORD, N.C. (AP) — An Army Reserve officer left bacon at a mosque and brandished a handgun while threatening to kill Muslims and “bury them behind the mosque,” North Carolina authorities said Friday.
Suspect Russell Thomas Langford, 36, made death threats against members of the mosque about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, authorities said.
“He told people at the mosque that he would kill them and bury them behind the mosque,” said Capt. John Kivett of the Sheriff’s Office. “He brandished a weapon while he was on the property.”
Langford, who lives in Fayetteville, was charged with ethnic intimidation, assault with a deadly weapon, going armed to terror the public, communicating threats, stalking and disorderly conduct, the sheriff’s office said. Kivett said Langford is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
The series of threats began Thursday afternoon when the man insulted a mosque member doing construction work nearby and then left the packages of bacon at the entrance of the mosque, according to authorities and witnesses.
Advocacy groups say pork is often used to insult Muslims because their religion doesn’t allow them to eat it. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said the act constituted a desecration of the place of worship.
Witnesses say the suspect left and returned to the Masjid Al Madina mosque several times in his Chevrolet Tahoe, prompting tense moments inside while children sheltered in the back of the building. Authorities said there were no injuries.
At one point, the suspect followed one of the members home, according to a Hoke County Sheriff’s Office news release. The person tried to evade him but couldn’t.
A mug shot of Langford shows him with close-cropped hair, a tattoo resembling the U.S. flag on his right forearm and a green shirt emblazoned with a military-style rifle emblem.
Authorities found several handguns and other weapons, along with about 500 rounds of ammunition in Langford’s vehicle, Kivett said. He said Langford didn’t make specific threats about a mass shooting other than to say he wanted to kill mosque members.
Langford made his initial court appearance Friday, posted a $60,000 secured bond and was released to the custody of the Army at Fort Bragg, Kivett said.
About three miles from the mosque, several people at a house listed by authorities as Langford’s address declined to comment Friday afternoon. Phone listings for him rang unanswered.
The threats came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the man Langford followed home is himself a Muslim chaplain at Fort Bragg. Kivett said that resulted in the stalking charge. A message left for a man identified as the victim by mosque members wasn’t immediately returned. The Washington group asked authorities to investigate the case as a possible hate crime and increase patrols around the area, especially during nighttime Ramadan activities.
A patrol car was parked outside the mosque Friday ahead of midday prayers. It sits just off a state highway between Fayetteville and Raeford.
“We’ve never had a problem with anyone,” said Kamal Allan of Raeford. The mosque has been there for about three decades.
The general contractor and mosque member said he was leading a crew tearing down a nearby outbuilding when the suspect drove up in the late afternoon. Allan said Langford began insulting him and using expletives while asking white crew members, “Do you know who you’re working for?”
“I said: ‘Don’t talk to him. Don’t talk to him. Just leave him alone and let the police handle it,” Allan said.
Witness Abdu Alsaidi, another mosque member, said Langford left and returned several times. He said that police were called in the late afternoon, but they didn’t arrest Langford until sometime after 8 p.m.
Alsaidi described tense moments inside the mosque. At one point while Langford was parked out front, members made children move to the back of the building for fear of an attack.
“Our life was on the line,” he said. “The way he acted, he didn’t care about anybody.”
Drew reported from Raleigh. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Raleigh and Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina.
This story has been corrected to show the suspect’s name is Russell Thomas Langford, not Thomas Russell Langford.