Weather Updates

Wannabe terrorist bomber gets 23 years in prison

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: July 2, 2013 7:39AM

Wannabe terrorist Sami Samir Hassoun was such an outrageous liar he once claimed he’d smuggled diamonds out of an African mine by embedding them in his teeth.

But the troubled 22-year-old Lebanese immigrant was so desperate to prove he wasn’t all talk that he placed what he thought was a ticking bomb in a Wrigleyville trash can in the early hours of September 19, 2010.

“They’re drunk . . . they don’t even know their own names!” he mocked the dozens of weekend revelers he hoped to murder.

He thought the blast would make him rich, “shake Chicago” and — bizarrely — even lead to a “small revolution” that would sweep then Mayor Richard M. Daley from office.

The bomb, though, was a fake, handed to him by the FBI as part of a sting. On Thursday, it got him 23 years in federal prison.

U.S. District Judge Robert Judge Gettleman handed Hassoun, now 25, the sentence after a lengthy hearing at which the judge was shown secretly recorded video clips from a four-month period leading up to the attack.

They showed a deranged-looking Hassoun laughing as he plotted with undercover agents, then scouting the scene, setting the timer, putting the fake bomb in a trash bag and navigating the busy 3500 block of Clark Street before placing it outside the packed “Sluggers” bar just hours after a Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field.

“I gotta tell you it was pretty chilling when I saw that,” Gettleman said, telling Hassoun that the “elephant in the room” was the recent Boston Marathon bombing.

“I think what would have happened had the bomb been real would have made Boston look like a minor incident,” the judge said.

Though Hassoun was not a jihadi motivated by religion, the videos, which at one point captured him interrupting a scouting mission of the bomb site to chat up a young woman, and at another point showed him rambling about Chicago corruption, revealed him to be a “bombastic, gullible, immature young man” who was “seriously out to lunch” the judge said.

“I really don’t know what was going through your mind. You’re trying to embarrass the mayor by blowing up a bunch of people at Wrigley Field?”

Thursday’s hearing was the first major test in a Chicago federal courtroom of the FBI’s controversial tactic of using undercover stings to snare young alleged would-be terrorists before they do serious harm.

Lawyers for Hassoun and defendants in two pending cases have all argued that undercover agents entrapped misguided but essentially harmless youths.

Hassoun last year pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and to attempting to use an explosive device under a deal that allowed him to dodge a life sentence. On Thursday, he gave an emotional apology in front of his tearful parents for “the shame I’ve brought on myself, my country and my family.”

But his attorney Matthew Madden said it was clear that “Hassoun could not and would not have done this by himself.”

Urging the minimum possible sentence of 20 years, Madden said it was “ludicrous” to imagine that a “shameless story teller” like Hassoun could ever have carried out the “Hollywood-style” plots he discussed, such as poisoning Lake Michigan.

Hassoun was promised “millions” and led on by an “over-aggressive criminal informant” who he looked up to as a “father figure” and who repeatedly “moved the ball forward” because he wanted to be paid by the FBI, Madden said.

But prosecutor Joel Hammerman urged the maximum possible sentence of 30 years. He said that Hassoun was given multiple opportunities to back out.

Hassoun “indicated again, again and again that he wanted to engage in acts of terrorism in Chicago,” Hammerman said, adding that even if Hassoun could not have built a real bomb, he could have bought a rifle.

Gettleman agreed the public “should applaud” the government for its handling of the case.

Though the judge allowed that Hassoun was likely severely traumatized by the graphic wartime violence he’d witnessed growing up in the Ivory Coast and Lebanon, and was a needy “social chameleon” desperate to fit in wherever he was, the judge said “you cannot use that to excuse anti-social behavior.”

Hassoun, who will likely stay locked up until he is 41, will be deported upon release, the judge said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.