CHICAGO – A 22-year-old Lebanese immigrant accused of dropping a backpack he thought contained a bomb near Chicago's Wrigley Field was a one-time aspiring doctor who dreamed of fame and fortune in America, a friend of the suspect said Wednesday.
But Sami Samir Hassoun was also prone to big boasts, lies and bluffs, restaurant owner Joseph Abraham said in an interview with The Associated Press. Those may have led his friend of more than a year to plant the bogus bomb provided by FBI undercover agents, Abraham said.
"Half of the stuff he told you you couldn't believe — lies to show people he was a big shot," said Abraham, 49. "I think what got him trouble: He was bluffing and he got caught in a bluff."
Hassoun was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday for a detention hearing.
He was charged Monday with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and of an explosive device. He is alleged to have placed the fake but ominous-looking device — a paint can fitted with blasting caps and a timer — in a trash receptacle near a sports bar just steps from the historic home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
The complaint says Hassoun waffled about his plans and motivations, talking about profiting monetarily from attacks. He also discussed wanting to spark revolution in Chicago and spoke of poisoning Lake Michigan or assassinating Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Hassoun, who immigrated with his parents and a younger brother nearly three years ago from a small village in southern Lebanon, speaks fluent Arabic, English and French, Abraham said. He also attended private school and at one point studied medicine, Abraham recalled.
"He's intelligent — not a street guy," his friend said.
Hassoun's version of the American dream, Abraham said, was "to make fast money" — and fast fame.
"The guy was starving for attention — any way he can get attention," he said.
That made Abraham think Hassoun could use mental help, though he insists his friend is "not crazy."
Abraham said he could verify another claim in the complaint — that Hassoun did not appear to have any affiliation with extremists.
Although Hassoun came from a region in Lebanon where most people are Shia Muslims, Abraham said, he wasn't religious himself — drinking and often going to nightclubs.
The stories sometimes involved woman he was dating.
"He thought of himself as a ladies man," said Abraham. "He was from one girl to another — breaking up with people really fast. He was having problems."
He said he first met Hassoun when Hassoun worked at a nearby bakery and would deliver baklava to Abraham's Lebanese restaurant in Chicago.
He knew Hassoun as fun-loving and outgoing and always ready to tell a good — if only partly true — story.
But he said there were some signs Hassoun could get himself into trouble. Hassoun was once thrown out of school for apparently hitting someone with a cell phone, he said.
One issue that's likely to come up as the matter moves through the courts is whether federal authorities egged Hassoun into committing crimes he didn't intend to commit.
It was an informant who tipped off authorities about Hassoun, and befriended him for more than a year. At least two FBI undercover agents got in touch with Hassoun, posing as co-plotters.
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 pursuing the entrapment argument.
"My client didn't bring anything of his own making to the incident. Things were given to him," he said.
Auerbach wouldn't comment in details on the case or about Hassoun's character, saying only that he has a "unique" and "rich" personality.