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Twenty months ago, Florida computer programmer Adham Hassoun was driving to an interview with a reporter, or someone he thought was a reporter, when two dark cars suddenly forced him to pull over and men with guns appeared. “It was about sunset. Before I knew the situation I heard a police siren, and I looked in the mirror and I saw the police pointing their guns,” Hassoun recalled in a recent interview. “At first, I thought they were chasing the car ahead of me, but they were pointing guns at me. I thought it was a mistake.” It was no mistake. Standing on the pavement at a suburban intersection near Fort Lauderdale, arms thrust in the air, Hassoun was informed by an agent from South Florida’s Joint Terrorism Task Force that he was in violation of the conditions of the visa he used to enter the country legally in 1989. “You must be kidding,” replied Hassoun, the married father of three boys ages 11, 9 and 3. They were all born at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. But it was no joke; Hassoun has been in federal lockup in South Florida ever since. Born in a Lebanese refugee camp 41 years ago to Palestinian parents, Hassoun stands today at a major intersection in America’s war on terror. He admits in interviews with a reporter to associations with some of the most notorious figures and groups to emerge so far in the war, including alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. And in secret deportation proceedings in Miami last year, federal immigration authorities labeled Hassoun a “terrorist” with contacts as high as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Hassoun is appealing deportation orders against him to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, the Miami Daily Business Review previously has reported. Hassoun’s troubles could worsen today when a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Florida meets to consider indicting him for perjury and obstruction of justice. Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Killinger announced the charges were imminent late last week at a bond hearing for Hassoun in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. Last month, Hassoun was indicted on a single count of illegally possessing a firearm — a 9mm Smith & Wesson pistol that agents recovered when Hassoun’s home was searched following his June 12, 2002, arrest, in Sunrise, Fla., the town where he lives. “This is not just a simple gun charge anymore,” Killinger told U.S. Magistrate James M. Hopkins. Killinger said the new indictment will include “in excess of five or six counts,” each with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Hassoun, a seven-year employee at MarCom Technologies — also in Sunrise — before his arrest, faces 10 years if convicted of the gun charge. Hopkins ordered Hassoun held without bond as a flight risk after Killinger called him “a desperate man.” The order means Hassoun won’t get his wish to be returned from a federal prison to less harsh conditions with easier access to his lawyer and a telephone to call his family at the Krome Detention Center in south Miami-Dade. Outside the courtroom, Killinger declined to describe the nature of the new charges against Hassoun or otherwise comment. But Fred Haddad, Hassoun’s Fort Lauderdale defense attorney, said the impending superseding indictment likely would assert that Hassoun had lied to authorities to cover up his involvement with Islamic terrorists. Haddad insisted his client is not a terrorist. “He’s never had so much as a traffic ticket,” said Haddad, adding the government’s case is weak. In a series of telephone interviews from jail, Hassoun said this about the expected charges: “There’s nothing I have to worry about. I have nothing to hide.” Nevertheless, Hassoun admits to associations with people and organizations linked to terrorism that readily arouse suspicion. One of those associates is American citizen Padilla, the alleged “dirty bomber” and former Broward resident who’s been labeled an “enemy combatant” by President Bush. Padilla is being held virtually incommunicado and without charges in a Navy brig in South Carolina. A week ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Padilla’s appeal of his indefinite detention. According to Hassoun, he was to discuss Padilla with a reporter the evening he was detained. Now, Hassoun thinks the “reporter” was actually a federal agent who’d called on a pretext to set Hassoun up for arrest. Hassoun knew Padilla as one of hundreds of fellow worshippers at Fort Lauderdale’s Masjid Al-Iman Mosque. He and other worshippers, he said, chipped in financially to help Padilla travel to Egypt in the late 1990s to study Arabic. Padilla later got married there, and had children, Hassoun said. While Padilla was in Egypt, Hassoun said, he relayed a couple of messages from Padilla’s family back home. “His mother was looking for him,” said Hassoun. “I knew people from here that know him. I said, ‘Tell him to call his mother. Shame on him.’” Federal agents arrested Padilla at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago a month before other agents detained Hassoun in Broward. Hassoun said he didn’t know Padilla’s name, and didn’t recognize him right away. Later, Hassoun said, he thought about phoning the police when he realized it was Padilla who had been arrested in Chicago. “Shall I call the FBI?” Hassoun recalled asking himself. “At the time I didn’t know what obligation I had. Should I call? What am I going to tell them if I call them? Finally, I decided there was nothing I could offer or say that would shed any light about what the guy did.” A similar instinct to help others led him to work briefly a decade ago for a Chicago-based charity called Benevolence International Foundation Inc., Hassoun said. He was intrigued by the idea of assisting Muslim refugees from the then ongoing war in Bosnia. Florida corporate records show Hassoun was briefly the group’s registered agent in Florida. Years later, though, the association came back to haunt Hassoun when the foundation’s founder, Enaam M. Arnaout, came under investigation for steering contributions to Muslim extremists, including al-Qaida. Arnaout pleaded guilty a year ago to a charge of racketeering conspiracy for funneling donations to Muslim separatist fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. “I joined, then I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I quit,” Hassoun said. The FBI questioned Hassoun about the charity three or four months before he was arrested. “I said, well, I only had a short period with them about 10 years ago. I said I really cannot tell you anything because I did not have too much involvement,” Hassoun said. “I was always willing to help,” Hassoun said, “but I would never do stories and make lies against anybody.” Hassoun claimed to be mystified by other government accusations that he’d participated in a 1997 assassination plot, and been a member of an extremist group led by New York Islamic leader Sheikh Abdel Rahman, who is serving life in prison for his role in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center. “I have no clue what that’s about,” said Hassoun, who once hung up on someone he thinks was a federal agent posing as Rahman. “I said to the FBI, ‘How did you figure that out? Just tell me so I can have a clue.’ The feds, they can claim anything.” By way of example, Hassoun cited the way authorities have portrayed the unregistered pistol that was seized at his home when he was arrested. Federal law prohibits nonimmigrant aliens from owning a firearm. Hassoun admitted purchasing the gun in 1994 in an interview with the Daily Business Review. He said he bought it from a friend “for personal protection,” and aside from taking target practice once with the gun at Markham Park shortly after he bought it, he has not used it. Court records show the government has a receipt for the gun signed by Hassoun and Al Cheikh-Khalid. No further information about Cheikh-Khalid was available. The government, though, wrongly has sought to portray the circumstances as being worse than they were, Hassoun said. “They’ve presented it like it was a loaded gun. It wasn’t. It was inside a box. And the way they were talking they made it sound like they made the discovery. … I told the feds about it when they arrested me,” Hassoun said. In federal court last week, Killinger asserted the pistol was loaded, but confirmed Hassoun had told the agents where to find it. If convicted on the firearms charge alone, Hassoun faces years in prison. Meanwhile, he continues to attack the pending deportation orders against him. For a time last year, Hassoun sought to win his release on a writ of habeas corpus. The strategy didn’t work, and Hassoun now pins his hopes for avoiding deportation on the 11th Circuit, where he’s representing himself. Fear of embarrassment keeps the government coming after him, said Hassoun, not any good-faith belief by law enforcement that he may have committed crimes. “I scare them, one way or another. I’m outspoken and they are afraid it will look very bad if I am simply released after all this. They told me that,” he said. Meanwhile, Hassoun’s legal troubles pile up and his frustration with a slow-moving justice system grows. “They are taking their time,” he said. “They sleep at home. Time is not on my side.”

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