Would-be Chicago backpack bomber gets 23 years
CHICAGO—A US judge sentenced a young Lebanese immigrant to 23 years in prison Thursday for placing a backpack he believed contained a powerful bomb along a bustling street near a major Chicago sports stadium.
The 25-year-old Sami Samir Hassoun, a former baker, pleaded guilty last year to dropping the backpack into a trash can outside a bar packed with late-night revelers across the road from Wrigley Field in 2010. FBI undercover agents had given him the bag.
The defense depicted Hassoun as a gullible youth sucked into the sting during an alcohol-addled stretch of his life by an informant eager to please his FBI handlers.
Prosecutors say he declined repeated opportunities to back out of the plot.
The judge invoked the specter of the deadly Boston Marathon bombings in April, saying if Hassoun’s bomb had been real, it would have made Boston look like a minor incident.
Hassoun, crying, apologized.
As part of a plea deal with the government, Hassoun pleaded guilty last year to two explosives counts. In return, he faced a sentencing range of 20 to 30 years, rather than a maximum term of life in prison.
Hassoun blamed his actions in part on childhood trauma living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. During civil strife there, Hassoun, then 11, witnessed machete killings from an apartment balcony, he wrote in his sentencing statement.
To dampen his emotional pain, he wrote that he drank alcohol “all day, every day” for months before the would-be attack in 2010.
The defense has suggested investigators may have entrapped Hassoun, arguing the paid informant urged him to agree to increasingly ominous-sounding plots.
But prosecutors say Hassoun himself concluded that maximum damage could be inflicted by a blast next to the popular Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, just steps from Wrigley Field.
The defense said religious fervor did not drive Hassoun, making him less of a long-term threat. Prosecutors disagreed.
“His alleged lack of religious motivation would not have, in any way, dissipated the death and destruction caused by his actions,” they said in their presentencing filing.—Michael Tarm