CHICAGO – a tactic that has been used in other U.S. terrorism cases in recent years.
Sami Samir Hassoun, 22, a Lebanese citizen living in Chicago for about three years, was charged Monday with one count each of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted use of an explosive device.
Hassoun was arrested early Sunday after planting the fake explosive device in a trash receptacle near Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, a popular bar steps from Wrigley Field, FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant said. The Cubs were not playing at their home field; the stadium hosted Dave Matthews Band concerts Friday and Saturday nights.
It wouldn't be the first time FBI agents have posed as terror operatives and supplied 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 to set off what he thought was explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse.
In a similar case in May 2009, four men were arrested after they allegedly tried to detonate fake explosives — also provided by the FBI — outside two synagogues in New York City.
In the Chicago case, the FBI said an informant tipped investigators about Hassoun nearly a year ago. 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.
"He wanted to transform the city of Chicago, he wanted to make a statement and he wanted to replace the mayor of Chicago," Grant said. "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.
Authorities say the informant befriended Hassoun over the course of a year, conducting conversations in Arabic, which were taped and shared with the FBI. Hassoun waffled greatly on his plans, authorities said.
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."
Prosecutors say Hassoun talked about various plots during the investigation, including plans to unleash a biological virus on Chicago and to bomb the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower.
According to the complaint, Hassoun on one occasion told the informant he wanted to paralyze commerce in the city. Asked how he intended to carry out various suggested attacks, Hassoun responded, "You park the car, and let it go 'boom.'"
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 alleged 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.
Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.