Would-Be Bomber ‘Wanted to Transform Chicago,’ Police Say
Chicago (AP) - A man arrested for allegedly placing a backpack he thought contained an explosive near Chicago's Wrigley Field also talked about poisoning Lake Michigan, bombing a landmark skyscraper and assassinating Mayor Richard Daley, according to a federal complaint filed Monday.
Sami Samir Hassoun, 22, a Lebanese citizen living in Chicago for about three years, was charged with one count each of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device.
"He wanted to transform the city of Chicago, he wanted to make a statement and he wanted to replace the mayor of Chicago," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant. "He was unhappy with the way the city was running. He was also unhappy with things that were happening in other parts of world."
At a brief hearing Monday, Hassoun quietly told U.S. Judge Susan Cox that he understood the charges. Hassoun's federally appointed public defender Dan McLaughlin, declined to comment on the case, as did several family members who attended the hearing. A message left on an answering machine at Hassoun's home telephone number wasn't returned.
An FBI informant tipped investigators about Hassoun nearly a year ago, the agency said. Grant said Hassoun acted alone and that the undercover agents told him they were from California and unaffiliated with any group. He declined to offer specific details about Hassoun's motivations, but said he believed the agents were ready to give him money if he carried out the attack.
Hassoun was arrested early Sunday after planting the fake explosive device -- which was given to him by an undercover agent -- in a trash receptacle near Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, a popular bar steps from Wrigley Field, Grant said. The Cubs were not playing at their home field; the stadium hosted Dave Matthews Band concerts Friday and Saturday nights.
The informant befriended Hassoun over the course of a year, conducting conversations in Arabic, which were taped and shared with the FBI. In that time, Hassoun waffled greatly on his plans.
Initially, he didn't want to cause violence, suggesting setting off smoking devices in downtown locations near City Hall, authorities said.
"No killing. There is no killing," he told the informant, according to the complaint.
But his plans became more grand, as he believed bigger acts would command public attention and embarrass the mayor, according to the complaint.
"Little by little, I'm building it up," he said, according to the complaint. "I will shake Chicago."
Hassoun's alleged plots ranged during the investigation. They included talk of plans to unleash a biological virus on Chicago and bombing the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, the complaint said.
Hassoun on one occasion told the informant he wanted to paralyze commerce in the city, according to the complaint. Asked how he intended to carry out various suggested attacks, Hassoun responded, "You park the car, and let it go 'boom,'" the complaint says.
Grant said Hassoun wanted to start his own organization and planned to flee to California after the device went off in Wrigleyville.
"He was not highly skilled, but I think he was definitely desirous of obtaining the material needed to carry out his attack," Grant said.
Shortly before the plot near Wrigley Field, the informant introduced Hassoun to the undercover agents who Hassoun believed were friends and would pay for the attack to be carried out.
Chicago authorities said Daley never was in any danger. Police said Daley -- who has been in China for a business trip -- was informed of the plot over the weekend.
"We were always in control of this investigation," said Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis.
There have been other cases involving FBI agents posing as terror operatives and supplying suspects with bogus explosives. Last year, authorities arrested a Jordanian national after he allegedly attempted to detonate what he thought was a bomb outside a Dallas skyscraper. In an unrelated case, authorities in Springfield, Ill., arrested another man after he allegedly tried he tried to set off what he thought was explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse.
Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.