Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a 22-year-old native of Iran, called 911 to surrender Friday a few minutes after a sport utility vehicle sent students scurrying to escape. No one was seriously hurt.
Taheri-azar was later charged with nine counts of attempted murder and nine counts of assault, and his bail was set at $5.5 million.
University Police Chief Derek Poarch said Taheri-azar told investigators he intentionally hit people to "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world."
At his first appearance Monday in Orange County court in Hillsborough, Taheri-azar told the judge he planned to represent himself and was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah." He was assigned a public defender, but ignored the lawyer's advice to stop talking.
"In this case, they're gonna ultimately allow him to represent himself," District Attorney Jim Woodall said after the hearing. "It's clear to me that that's what he truly wants to do."
Taheri-azar spoke politely when he called emergency dispatchers.
"Yes, sir. I just hit several people with a vehicle," Taheri-azar said on the recording. "Right now, I'm standing, you can come arrest me."
Taheri-azar graduated from North Carolina in December after studying psychology and philosophy. Investigators believe he has spent most of his life in the United States, Poarch has said.
On campus, UNC students held what they called an "anti-terrorism" rally on Monday.
"We don't want terrorism here, and we're not gonna stand for that where we live and where we go to school," said Kris Wampler, a member of the College Republicans, which helped organize the rally.
About 50 students attended, including a group of Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.
"When you think of terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said Khurram Bilal Tariq, a 22-year-old junior.
The Muslim Students Association, which criticized the university's student newspaper last month for publishing a cartoon that depicted the Prophet Muhammad, has said Taheri-azar was not a member of the group and denounced his alleged actions.
Stephen Mann, an 18-year-old freshman, said he wasn't singling out Islam. He said a driver of any religion who did what Taheri-azar is accused of should be called a terrorist.