A Binghamton University graduate student was arrested and charged with murder in the second degree Saturday, after allegedly stabbing an anthropology professor to death.
Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, a 46-year-old Saudi national, is accused of stabbing 77-year-old Richard Antoun, professor emeritus at BU, four times with a 6-inch kitchen blade Friday in Science I at 1:39 p.m.
Antoun died at Wilson Memorial Hospital later that afternoon. Based on a press release from Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen, Al-Zahrani was arraigned in the Town of Vestal Court and was remanded to the Broome County Jail without bail.
According to Joshua Price, the director of the Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture (PIC) program at BU, Al-Zahrani had been having financial difficulties and was looking to transfer out of the anthropology department and into PIC. Price had first met with Al-Zahrani about those concerns Nov. 10, and had continued communication via e-mail.
“He was eager to see if he could get financial aid through our department,” Price said.
Price said he sent an e-mail about Al-Zahrani’s concerns to PIC’s Graduate Director Bill Haver at 1:15 p.m. Friday, to inquire about office policies regarding mid-semester transfers and financial aid.
After sending the e-mail, Price left the office, went to the Library Tower elevator, and came across Al-Zahrani, who had been looking for him. Price suggested Al-Zahrani accompany him down the elevator and discuss his situation. Price informed Al-Zahrani that he believed it was unlikely that he would be able to receive financial aid, but that he was not sure.
“The interaction was normal,” Price said. “He came to me, he seemed very intent and focused, but I didn’t have any cause for alarm.”
After they exited the elevator, the two went different ways. Less than half an hour later, Antoun had been stabbed.
Al-Zahrani lived with two other BU graduate students, Souleymane “Jules” Sakho and Luis Pena, on Main Street in Binghamton for the past three weeks.
According to Sakho, a Senegal native who came to BU this past August as a Fulbright scholar, the landlord of the first-floor unit in which he lived rented out a room to Al-Zahrani without discussing it with the tenants.
“Since there was a spare room [the landlord] didn’t ask for our opinion,” Sakho said. “I am usually in my room, so I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
Sakho said that Al-Zahrani had complained of financial difficulties and that he had tried to help him by providing food and cigarettes. According to Sakho, Al-Zahrani began to take advantage of the situation. When Sakho broached the subject, Al-Zahrani became disgruntled.
“He began to threaten me and he used to make silly comments that he was being persecuted,” Sakho said.
Sakho said that he began trying to avoid Al-Zahrani, but that one night Sakho had been drinking and in his frustration exchanged words with Al-Zahrani, who felt threatened and called the Binghamton Police. Officials investigated but took no further action against Sakho, he said.
Sakho, a PIC student studying the abolition of capital punishment, discussed his concerns with Price on Dec. 1. Price suggested Sakho speak to an official at the University Counseling Center, who then advised Sakho to avoid Al-Zahrani when possible.
Sakho said that this experience has made him rethink his study somewhat, though it has not changed his impression of the country.
“Americans, they are wonderful people. This is the only bad experience here,” Sakho said.
A motive for the crimes alleged against Al-Zahrani is still unknown.
“He [Al-Zahrani] didn’t speak of his relationship to Professor Antoun at all, though he mentioned several [anthropology professors] he worked with,” Price said.
Sakho echoed Price’s statement.
“[I] never heard about that professor.”
According to Sakho, a Christian converted from Islam, Al-Zahrani confronted him about his change of religion.
“I refused to discuss it with him,” Sakho said.
According to the Press & Sun-Bulletin, Antoun attempted to eliminate stereotypes of various cultures and had been scheduled to take part in a seminar Sunday at Temple Israel in Vestal, which would explore a variety of religious practices.
Based on a press release from DA Mollen’s office, “there is no indication of religious or ethnic motivation” behind the crime.
Price was unsure whether Al-Zahrani had planned the incident.
“It may not have been premeditated,” Price said. “Why else would he have been asking [me] those questions?”
— Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.