Nation & World

Contrasts veil terrorist suspect

Daniel Boyd was the son of a U.S. Marine decorated with four Purple Hearts. He was a devout Muslim who wore a beard that brushed his chest and robes that brushed his ankles.

Boyd spent his days hanging drywall and chatting with neighbors about hunting and fishing; he made pilgrimages to holy sites in the Middle East and broke each day for noon prayers to God.

Daniel Boyd showed a pair of faces to the world. Now, friends and neighbors are trying to make sense of another: a suspected terrorist who believed so ardently that he thought his faith was calling him to kill himself and others.

Boyd is at the center of a federal investigation linking him to a plot to commit suicide missions in Israel and Pakistan in the name of Islam. Six others, including two of his sons, have also been caught up in the terrorism plot and are being held at the Wake County jail. A seventh suspect is thought to be in Pakistan.

Boyd is full of contrasts, calling into question how well any of the neighbors he charmed, customers he served or young men he mentored really knew him. Whatever face he wore, though, those around him thought he belonged.

FBI agents swarmed the Boyds' home in northwest Johnston County last week, jarring neighbors who had befriended the Boyds. The neighbors encircled them in support. Had someone been murdered, they wondered? Had there been another tragic car accident like the one that claimed the Boyds' son Luqman two years before? Terrorism never crossed their minds, neighbors said.

"The more I think about it, the more I think something is not right about this story," said Susan Bedwell, the Boyds' next door neighbor, whose children played with the Boyds' youngest son and daughter. "The pieces do not fit. That's not who they were."

Pakistan, then bankruptcy

The Boyds were pulled south in 1995 by promises of good work and cheap living.

They had been living in Massachusetts, where they settled near family after an international adventure in Pakistan.

Their time in Pakistan had been turbulent. Years of aid work to Afghan refugees ended in a bizarre clash with Pakistani officials who suspected Daniel Boyd had robbed a bank and wanted to amputate his arm and leg as a penalty. The affair gave the family brief notoriety and a terrific scare.

Stateside, they found calm and anonymity again.

Daniel Boyd supported the family by hanging drywall and doing contracting work. But by 1995, the family had grown to seven and the high cost of living in Massachusetts was wearing on them. The Triangle was booming with subdivisions and office parks offering plenty of work for a skilled contractor.

Their life here wasn't as smooth financially as Boyd had hoped. They bounced between homes across the Triangle and Boyd worked for several different companies. He ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service and racked up debt.

By 1999, Daniel Boyd declared bankruptcy.

He owed more than $50,000.

Poverty and conversion

Daniel Boyd had been there before. Broke, that is.

His parents split in 1974, when Boyd was only 5. The children stayed with their mother, Pat Saddler.

According to a People magazine article in 1991, the family suffered desperate poverty. That article and others written after Daniel Boyd's arrest in Pakistan offer details about Boyd's life before he came to North Carolina.

Saddler, who lives outside Washington, told People they often couldn't pay the electric bill. In those lean months, she'd cook some sort of soup over a fireplace, scrounging leaves from the yard to augment the recipe.

By 1980, Boyd's mother, a secretary at a law firm, had remarried a kind and gentle Washington lawyer, William Saddler. Saddler, a Muslim, had a tremendous effect on Boyd.

Until then, Boyd had been an all-American boy, a towheaded football player who helped lead his Northern Virginia high school team to a state championship.

Boyd latched onto Islam. By age 17, he had converted, leaving behind the Episcopal rituals of his early childhood. Sabrina, his high school sweetheart, followed his lead, converting just before their wedding.

The conviction became so deep and strong that the two quit America in 1989. They packed up their lives -- and their toddler and infant -- and headed to Peshawar, Pakistan, a chaotic city near the border with Afghanistan. Though the fighting had stopped by the time the Boyds arrived, 3 million Afghan refugees had flooded Peshawar. The Boyds thought they could help, they said in interviews with national media after their arrests.

Those years now haunt Boyd. Federal investigators have said in indictments that Boyd trained with terrorists and fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. They use his past liaisons and training to sound alarms about his current threat.

But Boyd's adventures in Pakistan and Afghanistan are murky, as is much about his Islamic beliefs.

The Boyds' stay in Pakistan came to an abrupt end in 1992 after Boyd and his brother, Charles Boyd, ran afoul of Pakistani police. The brothers were accused of robbing a bank; the Boyds swore they were recouping money swindled from Sabrina Boyd by a bank officer. Their sentence: amputation of an arm and leg. Higher courts eventually overturned the sentence, sparing the Boyds their limbs.

Nestled in the suburbs

The Boyds seemed whole again in North Carolina. By 2004, they'd bought a home with the help of Daniel Boyd's ailing father in a quiet new subdivision in the crossroads community of Willow Springs.

The whole clan, four boys and a girl, nestled into their two-story beige home at the end of a cul-de-sac, backing up to a lake. Daniel's father, Thornton Boyd, had fallen ill with Alzheimer's; but he, too, found a comfortable space at their new home.

Shadow Lakes, their subdivision in an otherwise rural swath of Johnston County, is a bucolic slice of suburbia. American flags hang over porches. Tobacco grows in fields not far away. A pond, ripe for fishing, draws neighborhood children early each summer morning.

Daniel Boyd planted apple and pear trees. Sabrina Boyd would make a batch of chicken soup for the ailing children of neighbors, walking it over wearing her long skirts and long-sleeved shirts. Their son, Noah, 15, fished in the pond with the son of the Bedwells, the neighbor. The Boyds' daughter, Maryam, 16, played badminton and baseball in the neighborhood.

Prospering, fitting in

Boyd's work life had peaked as well. He'd landed jobs as a subcontractor hanging drywall and metal studs. He scored good jobs, working with a major commercial outfitter to manage such contracts as upgrades on a property leased by the state Department of Juvenile Justice, according to his former boss, Larry Schug, superintendant for Crawford-Dunn General Contractors.

His oldest boys, Dylan and Zakariya, worked alongside him, Schug said.

Daniel Boyd was active with his children, leading his sons on Boy Scout trips. Dylan and Zakariya became Eagle Scouts, Sabrina Boyd said.

"My husband was no couch potato," she said of Daniel. "He was with the boys doing their thing."

The Boyds were, in some fashion, beloved in Willow Springs. The Bedwells hung a sign on their fence Friday saying: "We support the Boyds."

Their Muslim faith, and the outward evidence of it, didn't put off their neighbors.

"They took walks in their full garb, and I never saw anyone stare or point or say anything," Bedwell said. "People would wave."

Religion became a point of lively discussion between Daniel Boyd and some of his neighbors in the largely Christian neighborhood.

Lorie Sienkwicz, a neighbor, met the Boyds by chance at Grandfather Mountain shortly before they moved into the neighborhood. They began talking about faith. She was a Christian. Daniel Boyd told her he had been, too.

Sienkwicz asked Daniel Boyd if he was feeling prejudice in America in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"He said, 'Yes, we are. Muslims are very peaceful people,'" Sienkwicz recalled.

Boyd invited her to come by and chat further about religion.

She told him: "If I come down there, you know I'm going to try and convert you."

Sienkwicz said Boyd agreed that was only fair.

Young men drawn in

Boyd is accused of being so vehement in his faith that he lured young men to adopt a cause of violent jihad, forsaking their lives in the U.S. for a suicide mission in Israel or Pakistan.

Anyone who knows Boyd in the context of his faith agrees that he was extreme. Investigators say Boyd splintered from the mosque in Raleigh because of conflicting views. Jasmin Smajic, 23, a Bosnian immigrant who befriended Boyd, said he often talked of jihad, a violent struggle to resist oppression in the name of Islam.

A cast of young men, many the ages of his oldest sons, gravitated to Boyd. Many gathered at a Muslim store the Boyds ran until last fall in a strip mall in Garner. Flanked by a laundromat and a barber shop, the store stood out. So did, Boyd who showed up for work in a full-length robe some days, blue jeans other days, said Richard Goodwin, owner of the Forest Hills Glam-O-Rama laundromat.

Young Muslim men would come into the store for traditional Muslim garb and meat slaughtered according to Islamic law. They would stop by for fellowship with Boyd.

All the time, federal agents were listening and watching, circling closer. Federal investigators have alerted the courts they intend to rely on evidence gathered in surveillance tapes.

Sabrina Boyd was sure that their home was bugged. She was so nervous that she insisted visitors to their home leave their cell phones in their cars.

Meanwhile, the family carried on. Patrick Boyd went to work and hung drywall. Dylan Boyd started a family with his new bride.

The father and sons took trips, to Israel, to the Palestinian territories, to Jordan.

But what the family says was their routine has become pieces of evidence the FBI is stacking against them.

Staff writers Sarah Nagem and Brooke Cain contributed to this report.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments