More on Ballut

From The Daily Southtown, which covers the town where Ballut lived:

The two men were accused of running the Chicago cell of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization and linked to the deaths of hundreds during more than a decade’s worth of suicide bombings in Israel. Ballut and Fariz allegedly helped funnel money raised here to Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders in Florida and ultimately to operatives abroad.


According to the 121-page indictment of the Al-Arian group, Ballut met in 1991 in Chicago with the so-called “Blind Sheik,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was later convicted of conspiring to bomb New York City landmarks. And as recently as 2001, Ballut and Fariz were heard in tape-recorded phone calls lauding the “martyrs” who had carried out a dual-suicide bombing in Haifa that killed 20 and left 50 injured.

Fariz, a Puerto Rico-born American citizen of Palestinian decent who lived in the south suburbs for more than a decade, was accused of working with Ballut to raise money and of discussing terrorist operations with high-ranking Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders.

While both Ballut and Fariz were living in the south suburbs, they were elected to the board of the Chicago Islamic Center, also known as the Mosque of the Martyr Izzedine Al-Qassam, at 3358 W. 63th Street. According to the indictment, Ballut and Fariz in 2000 were able to rewrite the constitution of the mosque to name themselves permanent members — and quickly called Al-Arian in Tampa to tell him “that they were in control.”

A third leader of the same mosque, former treasurer Tariq Isa, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty this summer to federal charges he tried to distribute massive quantities of a chemical used to make methamphetamine. Although those charges don’t mention terrorism, federal prosecutors have noted his relationship with Ballut and Fariz and said Isa was photographed with the international leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The defendants in the Al-Arian case said that although they were vocal advocates in the United States for the Palestinian cause and may have celebrated news of the terrorist group’s attacks, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about any violence.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the New York Times described Bridgeview, a south suburb of Chicago heavily populated by Arab and Muslim immigrants, most from either Jordan or the Palestinian territories, as “a hub of militant Islamic activity.” A number of the charities shut down by Ashcroft’s Justice Department were in the area; a large mosque is there. Two days after Sept. 11, hundreds of people marched on that mosque shouting anti-Arab slogans. People drove up and down Harlem Avenue, the town’s main drag, waving huge American flags and carrying, I kid you not, tiki torches. Candles, apparently, giving off not enough patriotic light. Police told women in hijabs to stay inside for their own safety. A guy called me one day, told me his mother had heard from a friend of hers at a bridge game that some “Arab kids” had burned an American flag, the rumor more poisonous than whatever truth there was in those days we all went a bit mad. These things happened. Reasons, justifications, excuses back and forth. These things happened, the latest chapters in a very, very old story.

And I should not have to say this, but I do: If people commit crimes they should be arrested, tried, convicted, punished. This isn’t about making equivalencies or jawing about freedom fighting or any of that. We have laws in this country to prevent us from coming to harm, and those laws should be enforced. But what we have lost sight of is that the law applies to those who enforce it as well; as well, perhaps most of all.

When Ballut, when Al-Arian, was indicted I remember thinking well, at least they’re actually arresting and indicting him instead of just putting suspicions out there. The evidence was revealed, for the most part, as Chris’s story above describes. A jury judged them. Rmj, in comments to last night’s post, is right. This is how it works.

But this is still what I’ve got: It’s suspicion, not certainty, that destroys us. It’s not the one case where justice was allowed to proceed; it’s the thousands where if there was a process at all, it wasn’t justice. Ghassan Ballut, Sami Al-Arian, Hatem Fariz were tried. Many in Bridgeview, and elsewhere, were not granted a similar courtesy.

And one more thing. As a bizarre and yet fitting footnote? The co-author of the New York Times piece? The one which enumerated the crimes of a town and its inhabitants?

Judith Miller.