This was a younger brother in one of my prior congregations that I used to go out in field service with in the early 1990's. We always had the most enlightening conversations and we went out and did recreational things from time to time. He seemed like a normal guy.
After a while, I moved to another congregation. I lost touch with Jeffrey Battle. The strangest thing happened some years later. Sometime after September 11, 2001 he appeared on national television.
I was like, “Wow, I went door to door with that dude.” He was clean shaven and well groomed as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, so converting to Islamic fundamentalism didn't do much for his appearance.
At 6 a.m. Friday, Jeffrey Leon Battle and October Martinique Lewis were asleep in their Portland, Ore., apartment when the team of federal agents, dressed in combat gear, crept up to the front door. For months, the FBI had been secretly tracking the couple's every move, phone call and e-mail, accumulating evidence to prove the two Americans, both converts to Islam, were members of a cell of Osama bin Laden's followers who planned to join Al Qaeda. Convinced they had enough to make their case, the Feds moved in.
Quietly, the agents prepared to make what they call a "keyed entry." The key: a battering ram. Crashing through the door, the Feds rushed to the bedroom, where they handcuffed the couple, who had jolted awake but were still in bed. At about the same moment across town, Patrice Lumumba Ford, another suspected member of the group, stepped out of his apartment to discover eight federal agents with guns ordering him to the ground. That same morning, agents in Detroit arrested Muhammad Bilal, yet another alleged member. Two other alleged conspirators remain free.
Federal investigators are still trying to figure out exactly how the various members of the Portland group came together--and when and why they allegedly decided to turn against their country. All seemed to share an obsession with radical Islam. Battle, 32, was raised in Houston, where he played high-school football and studied to be a hairdresser. Battle's mother, Deanna Douglas, told NEWSWEEK that, as a child, her son was a "jovial, really lovable" prankster.
Battle says she raised her son to be a Jehovah's Witness. But soon after seeing the Spike Lee movie "Malcolm X," he became "very obsessed" with Islam. Battle and his girlfriend October, now 26, converted and began wearing traditional Muslim dress. The two moved to Portland, married and worked for a time at a nursing home. The couple eventually divorced but, oddly, still lived together. Odder still, in 1999 Battle suddenly announced he was joining the U.S. Army Reserves, telling his mother he wanted to get medical training to become a doctor. But a few months after September 11 he was discharged. Last week Ashcroft charged that Battle joined the military only to learn how to fight against Americans. Neighbors recall that last winter, Battle's 6-year-old son argued with other children about the terror attacks. "He told me, 'I'm trying to tell them that 9-11 is a good thing'," Janette Dean, the mother of one child, told NEWSWEEK.