WASHINGTON (CNN) — Ali Muhammad Brown was focused on one thing, authorities say.
“My mission is vengeance. For the lives, millions of lives are lost every day…[in] Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, all these places where innocent lives are being taken every single day. … So, a life for a life.” That is what law enforcement say Brown told a police investigator in New Jersey when he was interviewed in July.
The U.S. government was doing “evil” within its own borders, too, Brown told law enforcement, according to court papers.
Brown, a 29-year-old from Seattle, is the prime suspect in a killing spree stretching from New Jersey to Washington state.
Between April and June, police say, Brown killed three people in Washington state, allegedly shooting them at close range late at night in quiet locations.
Also in June, 19-year-old college student Brendan Tevlin was found inside an SUV in West Orange, New Jersey, dead of multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said. Police say they traced the gun used in all of the killings to Brown.
Brown confessed, according to court documents, telling investigators he strictly follows the Muslim faith and had become angry with what he believed the U.S. was doing abroad.
Sources tell CNN that Brown was born in the United States and has family in New Jersey.
He was convicted of bank fraud in federal court in 2005 and served time in jail. The FBI tried unsuccessfully to link that case to fundraising for terrorists in Africa, said a former FBI official in Seattle.
Authorities say one of Brown’s co-defendants in that case fled to Somalia to fight with the militant group Al-Shabaab.
Officials have not said Brown was motivated by a specific terrorist group, and the killings he’s accused of committing happened before the U.S. bombing campaign on ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.
“Based on the statements he made, I believe you could prove that this is a terrorism offense,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Brown should be prosecuted in federal court, said Amy Jeffress, a former prosecutor and attorney with Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C. She served two years as chief of the National Security Section in the D.C. Attorney’s Office, and oversaw investigations and prosecutions of international and domestic terrorism and espionage.
As of now, Brown faces state murder charges which carry a life sentence, but authorities could bring more charges.
Brown pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance in New Jersey. The defense attorney on record is Al Kapin. CNN’s efforts to contact him were unsuccessful.