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Bridgeview man Muhammad Salah removed from terrorist list

Muhammad Salah is shown this 2007 file photo.

Muhammad Salah is shown in this 2007 file photo.

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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:44PM

After 17 years, Muhammad Salah is a free man.

Once again he can get a job, drive a car and buy gifts for his family members on their birthdays.

The Bridgeview resident, now in his early 60s, has been removed from the U.S. Treasury Department’s list of terrorists.

“Mr. Salah is delighted and relieved. It has been a long hard road,” said David Cole, a professor at Georgetown Law School and cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, one of Salah’s attorneys.

Cole said Salah is one of only three U.S. citizens living in the United States ever to have been designated as a “terrorist” and subjected to the onerous economic sanctions that the designation entails.

Two months ago, Salah and his local attorney, Matthew Piers, filed suit in federal court challenging the government-imposed restrictions, which prevented the father of four from paying a mortgage, getting medical care or even buying a loaf of bread without prior approval from the Treasury Department.

One day before the law required it to respond to that suit, the Treasury Department announced Salah had been delisted.

“The fact that the government folded so quickly on this speaks volumes to the unconstitutionality of this treatment,” Cole said. “It took the filing of a federal lawsuit to force the government to confront the validity of its own actions.”

The delistment, Cole said, “is a victory for Mr. Salah and for all Americans.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the People’s Law Office and the firm of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick and Dym all have worked pro bono on Salah’s case because Salah was not able to pay for their services without a special license from the government. In addition, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the American Friends Service Committee joined the lawsuit to challenge the designation’s violation of their First Amendment rights. Both groups were told it would be a crime to speak out in objection of Salah’s treatment.

In a statement about the delistment, the Treasury Department said that under the regulations of the department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, “a designated person has the option to, at any time, seek administrative reconsideration of the designation.

“Mr. Salah chose not to avail himself of that process and instead filed suit against OFAC to be delisted. In evaluating its response to Mr. Salah’s complaint, OFAC determined that it was appropriate to remove Mr. Salah from the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (‘SDN List’) based on current circumstances.”

Salah is a U.S. citizen who has lived in the south suburbs for most of his adult life. He is married, is an active member of the Bridgeview mosque and is suffering from cancer, although Piers said he is hopeful the treatments are working.

Piers also said Salah is “the most patriotic man I’ve ever met in my life.”

Piers said, upon hearing of his delistment, Salah expressed gratitude because “as bad as life has been under the restrictions, only in the United States can a person fight back and persevere.”

Salah’s troubles began back in the early 1990s when it was not considered illegal to give money to Hamas. An international incident between Israel and Palestine in 1992 changed that. After Israel started rounding up and deporting Palestinians, relatives in the United States began raising money to aid the displaced families. Salah openly brought money and distributed it to a hospital and other service organizations, Piers said.

He was arrested by the Israelis after police searched his East Jerusalem hotel room and found $95,000 in cash they said was to bankroll terrorism. After what Piers described as 55 days of intense interrogation and physical abuse, Salah pleaded guilty.

While serving a five-year sentence in an Israeli prison, Salah was classified by the U.S. Treasury Department a specially designated terrorist.

Upon his release, he returned to the United States.

Salah had been able to maintain a job transporting dialysis patients for a business his wife owns, Piers said. But he could not be paid unless he had a bank account and several attempts to open one failed. The banks said the reporting requirements were too onerous and costly, Piers said.

In 2004, Salah and two others were charged with an extensive racketeering scheme to fund Hamas. A jury in a high-profile 2007 trial acquitted Salah of providing financial, logistical and other support for Hamas in its long-standing conflict with Israel.

But the jury convicted him of obstruction for lying under oath on a questionnaire in a lawsuit over the fatal Hamas shooting of American teenager David Boim in Israel in 1996. Salah was sentenced in July 2007 to 21 months in federal prison and fined $25,000.

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