Friend: Chicago bomb suspect wanted quick fame, fortune

By Michael Tarm, AP
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Friend: Bomb suspect wanted quick fame, fortune

CHICAGO — A friend of a 22-year-old arrested in an alleged bomb plot in Chicago describes the suspect as a one-time aspiring doctor bent on achieving quick fame and fortune.

Restaurant owner Joseph Abraham says he’s known Sami Samir Hassoun for a year and a half. He says Hassoun immigrated to the U.S. from a Lebanese village nearly three years ago.

The 49-year-old says Hassoun liked to boast about his achievements. But he says they were often lies to try and show he was a big shot.

Abraham says he was shocked by charges accusing Hassoun of planting a device he thought was a bomb near Chicago’s Wrigley Field on Sunday.

He says Hassoun wasn’t religious, drank and went to nightclubs. Abraham thinks Hassoun must have been bluffing with FBI undercover agents and that’s what got him in trouble.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CHICAGO (AP) — As prosecutors take up the challenge of trying to convict a man arrested in an alleged bomb plot in Chicago, they may have to show the suspect wasn’t egged on by an informant or undercover FBI agents into a crime he didn’t initially intend to commit.

Sami Samir Hassoun, 22, was arrested Sunday after he placed a backpack authorities say he thought contained a bomb near Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The fake but ominous-looking device — a paint can fitted with blasting caps and a timer — was given to him by an FBI undercover agent.

Hassoun’s attorney, Myron Auerbach, said Tuesday he needed to study the case further before deciding on a defense strategy. But he left open the possibility of citing entrapment.

“My client didn’t bring anything of his own making to the incident. Things were given to him,” he said.

Former federal prosecutor Eric Sussman said the issue of entrapment is often broached in such cases.

“You have to show the suspect is someone predisposed to committing the crime rather than the informant being the instigator,” Sussman said.

Hassoun, a Lebanese citizen who has lived in Chicago for about three years, was charged Monday with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and of an explosive device. He is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday afternoon for a detention hearing.

The complaint alleges Hassoun also spoke of poisoning Lake Michigan or assassinating Mayor Richard M. Daley. It says Hassoun waffled on his plans and motivations, talking about profiting monetarily from the attacks and saying at one point he wanted no deaths.

Hassoun also had no apparent affiliation with extremists. The complaint alleges he raised the specter of terrorist groups only by suggesting it would be helpful to blame them for any attacks he staged.

“This does not read like some of the other homeland security cases I have read about,” Hassoun’s attorney said. “My client is not the traditional bad guy.”

An informant tipped off authorities about Hassoun, and befriended him over a year, conducting conversations in Arabic that were taped. At least two FBI undercover agents got in touch with Hassoun, posing as co-plotters — and eventually helping to deliver the bogus bomb.

A spokesman for the FBI’s Chicago office, Ross Rice, declined comment Tuesday. Prosecutors also aren’t commenting beyond the federal complaint.

But the complaint itself seems to anticipate any claims that Hassoun may have merely been suckered into the plot, describing how the undercover agents bent over backward to give Hassoun a chance to back out.

In a conversation cited in the complaint, one agent several times asks Hassoun if he wants to abandon plans to set off a bomb, telling him there was “no shame” in walking away.

“Do you still want to do it yourself?” the agent asks.

When Hassoun says he does, the agent asks him again, “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Hassoun responds, according to the complaint.

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