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South suburban senior out on bond after allegedly lying about terrorist past

Rasmieh Odeh from 2004 documentary  'Women Struggle.'

Rasmieh Odeh from a 2004 documentary "Women in Struggle."

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Updated: November 24, 2013 6:27AM

To her neighbors in her southwest suburban six-flat, she was the nice, small and frail 66-year-old lady who offered them cookies and helped immigrants find work.

But Rasmieh Odeh had a hidden history, the feds say — the ten years she spent in an Israeli prison for two terrorist bombings in Jerusalem.

And early Tuesday morning the Department of Homeland Security arrested her at her home in Evergreen Park, alleging she lied about her criminal convictions when she emigrated to the U.S. in 1995.

Odeh — a social worker with the Arab-American Action Network — was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist Marxist-Leninist organization that hijacked airplanes, according to a federal indictment handed down Tuesday.

Convicted by an Israeli military court in 1970 of involvement in two 1969 bomb plots, she was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after a decade in a prisoner exchange, according to court papers.

Prosecutors say two people were killed when Odeh and other PFLP members bombed a crowded Jerusalem supermarket on Feb. 21, 1969 but that a second plot four days later at the British Consulate failed because the bomb was discovered and moved to a safe place before it detonated.

They allege Odeh lied about her past when she emigrated to the U.S. in 1995 and again when she successfully applied to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2005.

But pro-Palestinian activists say she’s simply being punished for speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in Israel.

Wearing a blue hooded jacket, jeans and black sneakers, Odeh didn’t address the allegations against her during two brief court appearances Tuesday.

Speaking in a weak voice, she simply acknowledged she understood the charge against her before she was freed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason on $15,000 bail.

In a 2004 film about Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, however, she told an interviewer she’d been beaten and tortured during her interrogation by Israeli officials following the Jerusalem explosions.

She said in the film, “Women in Struggle,” that her father was brought into an interrogation room while she was naked “and they tried to force him to sleep with me.”

Though she did not directly admit a role in the bombing, she said that the incident “destroyed” her father, adding, “This increases my hatred against those who are responsible.

“Why? I am not the person responsible: the occupation is.”

Speaking outside court, Odeh’s attorney James Fennerty said he’d known Odeh as a friend for years and had never discussed her conviction with her. But he added, “I’ve had other clients over the years who’ve been in Israeli jails who say they’ve been tortured and forced to sign confessions they don’t understand.”

Odeh’s colleague at the AAAN, Hatem Abudayyeh, said he was also unaware of the conviction but added that by arresting Odeh the feds are “doing the job of the Israeli government — they are enforcing the occupation and repressing people in the United States” who speak out against Israel.

Abudayyeh — one of 23 activists who were controversially arrested and ultimately released without charge in 2010 as part of a federal investigation into possible U.S. links to terror groups in Palestine and Colombia — said he believes Odeh’s case is further evidence that Chicago’s Arab-American community is “under siege.”

Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League, however, said that the PFLP was one of the central terrorist groups that formed in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day war, and that despite its secular goals, it was a “precursor of various Islamic terror groups like Hamas.”

It was responsible for “awful bombings and hijackings,” he said.

While a prior terror conviction shouldn’t necessarily preclude an immigrant from naturalizing, Segal said, “lying on immigration papers is a different issue and one we’ve seen successfully prosecuted before.”

Odeh, who faces 10 years in prison followed by deportation if convicted, is due to appear in court next month in Detroit, where she allegedly made the false statements on her immigration papers.

Contributing: Steve Metsch, Mitch Dudek.

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