Crazy or not, FBI acted properly in nabbing Chicago terrorist

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Crazy or not, FBI acted properly in nabbing Chicago terrorist
By Ray Hanania –
He was only 22 and authorities are saying he was a little out-of-his-mind. But Sami Samir Hassoun could have become one of the most sinister terrorists to strike in America, having placed what he thought was a bomb in a garbage can at an intersection filled with partygoers and baseball fans. Instead, the FBI had been on to his angry threats to do something violent, threatening a variety of violent acts from assassinating Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to poisoning the city’s water source. But Hassoun, a Lebanese American, settled on placing a bomb in the middle of a large crowd, dropping the makeshift backpack bomb in the public garbage can and then setting the timer to explode from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, because he thought it would be more effective.

Before leaving the spot, he stood there and tried to count the number of people who were walking by. The corner was so heavily trafficked, FBI officials said, that he gave up counting at 12 and then walked away with a man he thought had helped him carry out what would have been one of the most heinous terrorist acts since Sept. 11, 2001.

The FBI and the U.S. Justice Department are often pilloried for the way in which they handle suspected terrorists. But in the Hassoun case, they did everything right. And, they had the help and participation of members of the American Arab community.

They monitored the suspect for more than a year, after he was brought to the attention of the FBI by an informant who Hassoun had explained he wanted to do something so dramatic it would teach the City of Chicago a lesson.

The source, an American Arab who spoke fluent Arabic, was joined by two undercover FBI agents, who also spoke fluent Arabic and many believe are American Arabs, who grilled Hassoun about his intentions for months before promising to provide him with a powerful bomb.

The bomb they gave Hassoun was a fake with no explosives at all. But that didn’t stop Hassoun from pushing to carry out the attack. He thought about blowing up a building, but the agents said that would bring too much attention and resources and blow their cover. The garbage can in the center of hundreds of party goers at an intersection filled with nightclubs and bars only blocks from Wrigley Field, one of two of the city’s baseball stadiums.

The Hassoun case stands out as a text book example of how terrorism cases can be handled without fanning the usual flames of Islamophobia and racist hate of Arabs.

The FBI and Justice Department never identified Hassoun’s religion. The FBI and Justice Department stressed that the suspect was acting almost exclusive alone, with the exception of the three undercover agents who should be credited with saving the lives of scores of innocent people who would certainly have been killed had it been a real bomb.

And, the FBI and Justice Department stressed repeatedly that there were no indications that Hassoun had any times to foreign terrorists or international extremists.

All of those factors might have distracted the public away from the real threat to fan the flames of discrimination that continues to rage out of control as we round the corner to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

The Hassoun case represents the beginning of what could be a turning point in how we handle terrorist threats. Involve more American Arabs who speak Arabic fluently and understand the nuances of more than 30 Arabic dialects that are involved.

And that means America can be a safer place, without starting another international war.

(Ray Hanania is a columnist with Creators Syndicate and a Chicago Radio Talk Show Host. He can be reached at

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Ray Hanania