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5.31.2010

grad student arrested for making "terroristic threat"

I hadn't heard about this case until the other day... Zhai Tiantian, a former graduate student at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, was arrested last month for allegedly threatening to burn down a campus building. Not cool.

Zhai faces charges of "making a terroristic threat," which can refer to a range of verbal threats. However, school officials are now concerned that the incident is being misreported in foreign-language media: N.J. college officials worry arrest of Chinese student accused of arson threat is being misreported.

While the school maintains that the arrest was part of a long-running disciplinary situation, some Chinese outlets are apparently reporting that Zhai was arrested for being a terrorist:
College officials say that misunderstanding, as well as several foreign news reports that seem to indicate Zhai was arrested for questioning authority or clashing with a teacher, has distorted what they say is a long-running disciplinary situation into a mini-international incident.

Zhai's attorney, Ming Hai, said his client denies making the threat and feels his arrest was retaliation for arguing with a teacher, publicly criticizing the school and threatening to sue.

Stevens spokesman Michael Schinelli said Zhai was suspended March 11 - nearly a month before his arrest - after a lengthy investigation that found he had numerous violations of the school's code of conduct.

Schinelli, who declined to detail the violations citing student privacy rules, said they involved Zhai and several individuals, none of them faculty.

Zhai appealed his suspension, Schinelli said, and it was upheld. Zhai was arrested April 15 after allegedly threatening in a letter or e-mail to burn down the administration building, Schinelli said.
Making threats to burn down a school building is a bonehead thing to do, and in the age of bomb threats and school shootings, you can't really blame authorities for taking something like that seriously.

But based on what's being reported, I'd hardly consider Zhai a terrorist, at least not in the way we all know and understand it. It sounds like there's some serious miscommunication happening here, all around: Arrested Chinese graduate student says: 'I'm no terrorist.'