TINLEY PARK, Ill. – A suburban Chicago man who is one of four U.S. residents named in a 50-count indictment alleging they supported a violent Palestinian terrorist group was arrested Thursday at his home and will be transferred to Florida to face charges.
Ghassan Z. Ballut, 41, was arrested by FBI agents in this south suburb shortly before 6 a.m., his wife, Hanan, said in a telephone interview.
Ballut appeared in federal court a few hours later, where U.S. Magistrate Geraldine Soat Brown ordered him held in federal custody until he can be transferred to Florida to face charges.
Ballut, represented by a federal defender, did not try to contest the removal or custody. He confirmed his age and name, but otherwise did not speak during the five-minute hearing.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Fla., was unsealed Thursday. It charges that the men are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. Among them are a Palestinian professor at the University of South Florida, 45-year-old Sami Amin Al-Arian, who is described as the group's U.S. leader and secretary of its worldwide council.
The indictment charges eight men -- including four living abroad -- with operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984 that supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad and with conspiracy to kill and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support to the group, extortion, perjury and other charges.
Each defendant faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The government said Ballut helped set up a terrorist cell at the University of South Florida.
Ballut's wife did not answer the door at her home shortly after 10 a.m. Minutes later, authorities left the home carrying a large envelope marked "evidence." They got into a minivan and drove away without comment.
Hanan Ballut, 36, said she did not know why her husband was taken into custody.
"My husband is clean as a whistle. My husband is a person who works and supports his family," she said. "We are American Muslims. We're here to live in peace. We know that we did not do anything wrong."
She said she and her husband are both U.S. citizens. She said he works at the Ford City Mall on Chicago's southwest side.
She said her husband told her, "Don't worry about it, take care of the kids, I'll be back," as he was led away.