How an Arab-American Hero Helped Thwart Chicago Bombing

How an Arab-American Hero Helped Thwart Chicago Bombing

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CHICAGO—A Lebanese citizen with U.S. residency was arrested by federal authorities Monday in what is being described as a bizarre attempt to influence the city’s politics through violence and terrorism.

The suspect, Sami Samir Hassoun, 22, who lives in Little Arabia on Chicago’s Northwest side, allegedly placed what he believed to be a remote-controlled detonation bomb in a backpack in a garbage can at a busy intersection of nightclubs near Wrigley Field (Cubs Park), one of the city’s two baseball stadiums.

Hassoun had also considered other bombing targets including the Sears (Willis) Tower, poisoning the city’s water system and trying to assassinate Chicago’s mayor, Richard M. Daley, according to information released by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

But Hassoun’s downfall apparently was also the result of his friendship with an American Arab who was secretly working as an undercover source for the FBI. The unnamed individual contacted the FBI last year after Hassoun told him of his intentions. FBI involvement helped insure that instead of placing a real bomb in the backpack, a non-explosive device was used instead.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Hassoun told the FBI informant he was upset with Mayor Daley and Chicago politics. He said he felt the city did not have enough security and he wanted to teach Daley a lesson.

Daley, who is on a business mission to China, and the city have come under criticism in recent months by activists angry over Chicago’s relationship with Israel.

Hassoun told the source in Arabic that he wanted to “make a statement” without hurting anyone and that his first concern was the city’s poor security. But his intentions quickly changed, authorities said. The source contacted the FBI, and Hassoun was then introduced to two Arabic-speaking professionals, also believed to be undercover FBI agents of American-Arab heritage, who told him they, too, wanted to commit an act of violence in the United States.

According to an FBI statement, “Hassoun met with the UCA [undercover agent] late on Saturday night, at which time he was provided a backpack which he thought contained a high-powered explosive device. Hassoun was shown the various components of the device and instructed on its operation. Although the explosive device was designed to look real, it in fact was constructed by the FBI of inert materials and was incapable of detonating. Hassoun and the UCA then left together in a rented vehicle, en route to the Wrigleyville area, where the bombing would take place.”

The intersection where the phony device was placed has nightclubs and restaurants frequented by many people, including students from DePaul University. The intersection is often crowded on Saturday nights.

Hassoun allegedly ruled out blowing up a high-profile skyscraper, as it would require more explosives and funding. As for the choice of Wrigleyville, “Hassoun explained that the majority of Chicago’s youth spend their weekends at bars and restaurants and that an attack against an entertainment center like the one near Wrigley Field could ‘paralyze’ that commerce,” according to federal authorities. “When asked by the CS how he would carry out such an attack, Hassoun succinctly stated: ‘You park the car, and let it boom.’”

FBI officials stressed that Hassoun was under constant surveillance and agents watched as he placed the fake explosive device into a trash receptacle. He was arrested after walking away from the phony bomb and allegedly attempting to detonate it.

Hassoun said he was angry with Daley and wanted to force the mayor, who has made several trips to the Middle East during his 21 years as the city’s chief executive, to resign from office by creating an embarrassing violent event.

Hassoun apparently was not very well read. Only a couple of weeks before, Daley announced that he plans to retire from the office he has held since 1989 and will sit out the February 2011 mayoral election.

The FBI said it did not believe that Hassoun was working with any other international contacts or that the attempted terrorist act had any international connections.

“His intent was to kill as many people as he could,” said Grant, who has met regularly with American-Arab and Muslim leaders in Chicago and urged more involvement from their communities to identify individuals like Hassoun who may be contemplating acts of violence.

American-Arab community leaders praised the FBI’s work and the work of the unnamed American Arabs who played a significant role in helping to prevent a terrorist attack that could have claimed many lives.

Community leaders said that in the event that the terrorist act had occurred, victims would likely also have included American Arabs and Muslims.

Ray Hanania is an Arab-American syndicated columnist and Chicago morning radio talk show host. He is the recipient of this year’s Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing and can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com
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