PHOENIX (AP) — A man that federal authorities say was a leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and is suspected in the killing of two in Fallujah 14 years ago ran an Arizona driving school and was described by friends and acquaintances in Phoenix as an outgoing, friendly member of the city’s Iraqi community.
The Arizona Republic reported Sunday that 42-year-old Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri had been in the U.S. for more than a decade and had recently married and had a child.
The Department of Justice said Friday that Ahmed appeared before a magistrate judge that day for proceedings to extradite him to Iraq, where the government has charged him with two counts of murder. It wasn’t immediately known if he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
Ahmed and other members of al-Qaida shot and killed a lieutenant and an officer with the Fallujah Police Directorate in 2006, according to the Department of Justice. A warrant was issued for his arrest on Wednesday.
Jabir Algarawi, a board member of the Phoenix refugee assistance organization Refugees and Immigrants Community for Empowerment, said he met Ahmed in 2010 and knew him well.
He said the man arrived in the U.S. in January 2008 as a refugee from Iraq.
“He said he had 20 bullets in his body,” Algawari said. “He said he had been shot 20 times in the face and arms and legs.”
Algawari said he was “very shocked” to hear Ahmed had been accused of the killings of the officers in Iraq. He said the man did not show any signs of being an extremist.
“He’s not religious,” Algarawi said. “He was always out partying, drinking. He does not seem to me to be a person with an extremist background.”
He said Ahmed had recently married and had a baby weeks ago. Arizona business records show he opened his driving school in 2016. The school, which advertised in English and Arabic, was shuttered on Saturday after his arrest.
Erkan Alkledar, an Iraqi refugee who owns an immigration services business next to Ahmed’s driving school, said he was stunned to hear the allegations but said he did not trust the man over a past business dispute.
Omar Muhialdin, the owner of a nearby Middle Eastern restaurant where Ahmed was a regular customer, said he too had heard Ahmed describe having been shot multiple times in Iraq. He said it was hard to believe Iraqi and U.S. government allegations that Ahmed belonged to an extremist terrorist group.
“Ali drinks a lot. Ali likes to dance. He’s not religious,” Muhialdin said.
Eva Kabejan, an 18-year-old worker at the restaurant, said she took driving lessons at Ahmed’s school two years ago and took a defensive driving course from him in January. She said he was shocked at the allegations.
“There is like no way,” she said. “He’s a hard-working guy. He’s really good guy.”