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Chicago man held in alleged bomb plot

Federal authorities say they've arrested a 22-year-old man who allegedly placed a backpack on a crowded Chicago street corner over the weekend thinking it contained an explosive.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Concluding a three-month sting investigation, the FBI has arrested a 22-year-old Chicago man accused of placing a backpack that he thought contained a bomb near a busy street corner in the city.

The FBI says Sami Samir Hassoun, a permanent resident alien from Lebanon, was arrested early Sunday morning, immediately after he put the backpack into a curbside trash can. There was no bomb inside. Instead, it contained an inert, look-alike device provided to him by a man who turned out to be an FBI undercover agent.

"There was no indication that any foreign or domestic terror groups were in any way connected to this plot" or were an inspiration for Hassoun, the FBI says.

According to investigators, Hassoun began saying in May that he wanted to commit a violent act, partly to get money from groups willing to pay someone who would set off a bomb and partly to bring down the current mayor. The person he talked to was an FBI informant who says Hassoun talked big — about staging a biological attack, or poisoning Lake Michigan, or bombing the Sears (or Willis) Tower, maybe even assassinating the mayor.

In July, the undercover agent began meeting with him, claiming to be from California and able to get explosives. Hassoun, the FBI says, eventually decided to put a bomb outside a nightclub in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

Justice Department officials say Hassoun was under continuing surveillance. He never had any actual explosives, though he appears not to have been short on swagger. Court documents say he proposed installing a new mayor would could be "bought off and managed."

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."

Hassoun's alleged plots ranged during the investigation. They included talk of plans to unleash a biological virus on Chicago and bombing the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, the complaint said.

Hassoun on one occasion told the informant he wanted to paralyze commerce in the city, according to the complaint. Asked how he intended to carry out various suggested attacks, Hassoun responded, "You park the car, and let it go 'boom,'" the complaint says.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert 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 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.

There have been other cases involving FBI agents posing as terror operatives and supplying 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 he tried to set off what he thought was explosives in a van outside a federal courthouse.