After 9/11, the Feds Went After Suspected Terrorists in the Southland
At least half a dozen men who lived in the south suburbs were caught up in the federal government's intensified scrutiny after 9/11. Ten years later, here's a look at the results.
The aftermath of 9/11 was felt in profound ways in the Chicago Southland, and among them was the federal government's intense effort to root out terrorism and terrorist sympathizers wherever they may hide.
Several times, that attention focused on the south suburbs.
Today, Orland Park Patch has an exclusive interview with a former Orland Park man who was deemed, without explanation, a "security risk" by the federal government in 2003. Sabri Samirah was prevented from returning home after traveling to Jordan to visit his sick mother. Samirah, who was never accused of a crime and never labeled a terrorist, kept pressing his case against the U.S. government, and in December 2010 he prevailed. A judge told the federal government that it had no case against Samirah and that he should be allowed to pursue his immigration case. He may be home by the end of 2011.
A handful of other south suburban men were brought to trial in the Justice Department's post-9/11 scrutiny, with mixed results.
Here's a look at several of those cases.
Enaam Arnaout: Leader of a Palos-Hills based Muslim charity, Benevolence International Foundation, this Justice man was said to be linked to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida network. He was photographed alongside bin Laden in 1988, and authorities cited this as evidence against him, though this was at a time when the United States was also supporting bin Laden. Arnaout in 2003 pleaded guilty to fraud for diverting donations from his charity to Muslim rebels in Chechnya and Bosnia who were fighting Russian and Serbian army troops. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and the federal judge said the government had "failed to connect the dots" between Arnaout and al-Qaida.
Khaled Dumeisi: The 60-year-old Oak Lawn resident and publisher of the newspaper Al-Mahjar was accused in 2003 of spying for Saddam Hussein and was arrested on charges he failed to register as a foreign agent. The FBI said the Palestinian-born Jordanian immigrant passed information on local dissidents to Iraqi intelligence officers at the United Nations. He reportedly used a spy pen with a secret camera. The evidence against him was gathered after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was sentenced to four years in prison following a trial where the government was allowed to present secret evidence and a former Iraqi government agent testified against him. His son, who lived in California, watched his father's arrest on TV. The family owned gas stations on the South Side and in Homewood.
Ghassan Ballut: This Tinley Park man owned a dry-cleaning business in the Ford City Mall. He was accused of supporting the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2003 and went on trial with Sami al-Arian in Florida. Islamic Jihad is responsible for hundreds of bombings in Israel. He was acquitted in 2005.
Hatem Fariz: A co-defendant of Ballut, the former Bridgeview resident moved to Florida in 2002. He plea bargained with the government and received three years in prison on charges he provided financial support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 2006. Fariz then admitted to $1.4 million in food stamp fraud at his Chicago grocery store and received 14 months in prison for that crime.
Mohammed Salah: Perhaps one of the most well-known of the terrorist cases in the Southland, the longtime Bridgeview resident and professor bore the distinction of being the only U.S. citizen to be declared an international terrorist by the federal government. He was brought to trial in 2006. The government accused him of being the U.S. commander of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and recruiting terrorists. He was acquitted in 2007, but convicted of lying about his Hamas ties in a civil lawsuit filed by the family of a victim of a Palestinian bombing. Salah was imprisoned in Israel for five years. In 1993, he signed a confession admitting his involvement with Hamas, but claims he did so after being tortured by Israeli agents.
Worth a Look: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald talks about the last 10 years of terrorism prosecutions on WTTW's Chicago Tonight and what the U.S. has learned.