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Richard
10-04-2009, 08:49
Dallas plot suspect's family says he was troubled, not a terrorist
Dave Tarrant, The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct 2009
Part 1 of 2

AJLOUN, Jordan – Hosam Maher Husein Smadi cradled his mother, weeping. Just 16 years old, the eldest of four children, he had dreaded this moment. During his mother’s 18-month fight with cancer, he had kept vigil by her bed.

Now it was time to let her go. Along with his brother, Husein, and several loved ones, he gripped his mother’s cloth-wrapped body. They began to lower her into the freshly dug 3-foot-deep grave.

Suddenly, he froze. Please, he implored of his uncle, a doctor. Check her pulse. Maybe she is still alive.

Hosam Smadi’s relatives here in Jordan see that childhood trauma as evidence that he did not start out determined to blow up one of Dallas’ signature skyscrapers. He came to the United States in April 2007 because he saw it as a land of opportunity, they said. He faked a marriage to stay here. He even considered converting to Christianity. They blame the FBI for enticing him to become an Islamic extremist — and entrapping him in a dangerous gambit.

Several experts in the U.S. and the Middle East, however, said would-be terrorists often arise from among the traumatized, the dislocated and the disillusioned. The FBI must take young men like Hosam Smadi seriously, these experts said. With al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in tatters, lost loners connected only by the Internet pose one of the biggest threats to Americans, particularly when they have shown signs of anger, depression and violence in the past, as Hosam had.

“A young person with no guidance and no monitoring can be easily turned into a radical, especially nowadays with the thousands of Web sites linked to extremist groups,” said Husein Khuzaii, a sociology professor in Jordan.

Ten days ago, Hosam Smadi, 19, who claimed to be a supporter of al-Qaeda, parked an SUV packed with what he thought were explosives under Fountain Place, a 60-story office tower, the FBI has said. He walked up to meet one of the undercover agents and called a cellphone number that he thought would trigger the blast, potentially jeopardizing hundreds of lives. The FBI said it first encountered him more than six months ago talking about holy war on an extremist Web site.

In Jordan, a long-standing U.S. partner in the Middle East, Hosam Smadi’s story is mystifying. Especially for those who knew him best — his sisters, cousins, friends and neighbors, his former teachers and classmates.

And, most of all, his father.

Maher Smadi, an agricultural engineer and civil servant, has tried to reconcile the son he knew, his eldest child, with an act better associated with Osama bin Laden.

“We never expected anything like this,” he said in Arabic, repeatedly conveying his regrets through a translator. “We sent him to the United States for a new life.”

The first child

On June 5, 1990, the first child of Maher Smadi and his wife, Haifa El-Momani, was born. They named him Hosam, which means “sword” in Arabic. A Muslim by birth, Hosam attended the Ajloun Baptist School through the ninth grade. Founded in 1952, the school is equally divided between Muslim and Christian students, said Essar Mazahreh, Hosam’s fifth-grade teacher and now the school principal.

“The Baptist school teaches English from kindergarten,” Maher Smadi said, explaining why he sent his children there. “Public school does not teach English until fifth grade.” The school also emphasized social skills and good manners.

Hosam was quiet, studious and sensitive to criticism, his teachers said. He liked to sing Christian hymns, occasionally wore a cross and recited Bible verses. His father said he could be unusually sensitive at times. “I remember there was a small insect on the floor, maybe an ant. We wanted to kill it, but Hosam said, ‘No, no! Jesus Christ created it,' ” Maher Smadi recalled.

The family observed Islamic law and customs at home. The father felt that the Christian experiences at school could benefit his son in a country with a strong Christian minority. His neighborhood in Ajloun is predominantly Christian, and he gets along well with his neighbors, he said.

Hosam spent his spare time playing video games on his computer or PlayStation. “He loved video games,” said Hammed Hosam, 19, a friend from school. “We met in each other’s homes all the time to play games.”

One of Hosam’s favorite games was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a game involving gangsters in a fictional American city modeled after Miami in the 1980s.

‘Crazily in love’

As a child, Hosam got along well with his parents but had an exceptionally close relationship with his mother. “He was crazily in love with his mother,” Maher Smadi said. “He used to tell her everything he felt.”

That emotional bond grew stronger after the father filed for divorce because of “family differences,” Maher Smadi said, adding that Hosam turned against him, and “he loved his mother even more.”

Hosam, who was 14, tried to pressure his father to reconcile with his mother, Maher Smadi said. He argued with him. He cursed him and kicked over furniture. “He was so violent with me,” he said.

“He did that with a hammer,” he said, pointing to a gouge on the side of a wood china cabinet in his home. Sometimes, Hosam skipped school and camped out in front of his father’s office building — or stalked him around town.

“He would follow me around and say no words,” Maher Smadi said. “He would direct his brother and sisters to bother me.”

At one point, the father filed a complaint with the local police. Hosam had taken about 10 or 15 Jordanian dinar (about $15 to $20) from him, and his father wanted to teach him a lesson. “So I went to the police. I did that to educate him,” he said. “It was a moment of anger for me.”

A judge sentenced Hosam to a week in a juvenile detention center, said Maher Smadi. After the divorce was finalized in January 2005, Hosam “became quieter,” the father said. But the peace didn’t last long.

‘You will survive’

In March 2005, Hosam’s mother, who was 36, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Hosam, who turned 15 that June, looked after his brother and two sisters. When his mother was in the hospital, he spent most nights sleeping in her room. Though his mother’s prognosis was poor, Hosam refused to believe it. “He thought she could survive,” his father said.

During her last two months, she was mostly asleep and unresponsive. But Hosam would talk to her continually, recalled his sister, Reem, 15. “You will survive. You’re a good person,” she recalled Hosam saying. “Mom, wink! Move your hands!”

He would pray over and over: “Allah saves her. Allah saves her.”

He closely followed a TV program about alternative medicine. When the host came to Ajloun, Hosam persuaded him to suggest an herbal recipe that he could try on his mother. Blending the herbs into a liquid, Hosam secretly slipped the formula into his mother's IV bottle one night, his father said. “By coincidence, when he put that mixture into the IV, his mother’s body flinched,” he said.

“It’s working,” Hosam told his family later. “I finally did it. It’s working.”

But Hosam’s mother died on Oct. 27, 2006. “It was Friday at 5 a.m.,” said Reem, a day after the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.

Their mother went into cardiac arrest. The alarm brought doctors and nurses into her room. They used a defibrillator to shock her heart, but it was no use.

When the medical staff left, Hosam and his brother, Husein, slipped back into their mother’s room, Reem said. Hosam tried to reattach all the wires on his mother and use the electric paddles to revive his mother, but the staff stopped him.

“He turned violent and broke windows at the hospital,” she said. “He was so mad.”

For a month afterward, he stayed in his mother’s house, alone. He refused to open the door for anyone. Not for his uncles and aunts. Not for his brother. Not even for his sisters, Reem and Rama. They cried and pleaded with him to come out.

“He spent the time sleeping, doing nothing,” Reem said.

‘A fresh start’

Maher Smadi persuaded his son to return home. “I forced him to go back to school,” he said. But Hosam would often skip classes and sleep in.

His father never suggested counseling. There is a stigma attached to mental illness in Jordan, Maher Smadi said. He believed his son would react badly to the suggestion. “He would do something nasty. He’d be very insulted.”

In March 2007, Maher Smadi and his son met with Hana Elrabadi, a retired Jordanian businessman and U.S. citizen who lives in San Jose, Calif., and was visiting his native Ajloun. “They wanted me to help him [Hosam] get to the United States and help him find a new future,” Elrabadi said.

Hosam already had a visa. His father had visited the U.S. several times and said he wanted to return with his sons at some point. He had gotten two five-year multi-entry visas for each of his sons to use at the right opportunity.

“Hosam thought it would be a fresh start. I thought it would be a fresh start,” Maher Smadi said. “Leave everything behind. Maybe it will help him.”

On April 15, 2007, the father drove his son to the airport. Just before his son boarded the airplane, the father gave him a hug. “I was very happy,” he said.

Emotionally troubled

But Hosam couldn’t shake his turbulent past. Back in San Jose, Hana Elrabadi saw clear signs that the young man was emotionally troubled. He was short-tempered and moody. “Every time he remembered his mother, he cried.” Elrabadi believed Hosam had psychological problems.

(cont'd)

Richard
10-04-2009, 08:51
Dallas plot suspect's family says he was troubled, not a terrorist
Dave Tarrant, The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct 2009
Part 2 of 2

A relative of Elrabadi’s, who worked with the mentally ill, told him Hosam seemed to show symptoms of schizophrenia. Once, “he cut his hand with a knife,” Elrabadi said. “Maybe on purpose, yes.”

Elrabadi, who is Christian, said Hosam asked for help to convert to Christianity. But Elrabadi didn’t want to do that, knowing that if Hosam returned to Jordan, someone might kill him for converting. “I tried to take him to the mosque. I tried to take him to school,” but Hosam had no interest in either, Elrabadi said. Finally, he found Hosam work at a restaurant.

He said he warned Hosam that the U.S. offered many opportunities — but also trouble if he wasn’t careful. After a month and half, he gave his guest an ultimatum: “Listen, Hosam,” Elrabadi recalls telling him. “You have to leave my house.”

Hosam moved into an apartment with some other young men, said Elrabadi, who quickly lost contact with his former house guest.

Hosam’s brother, Husein. came to visit for the summer and never left. Maher Smadi said Husein told him he would live with his brother and attend high school in Santa Clara, Calif. The father wired his sons money every month to help with their living expenses.

‘A lot of hostility’

In early 2008, Maher Smadi visited his sons in California, staying in the apartment with Hosam and Husein for almost two weeks. He got along well with his younger son, but not with Hosam.

When Hosam met his father at the airport, Maher Smadi recoiled in anger and shock. Hosam was wearing an earring. “In our culture, it is never acceptable for a man to wear earrings,” Maher Smadi said.

The young man seemed brusque to the point of being rude to others. He cursed often and criticized his family’s religion. “He was talking really badly about Islam, saying he was American now. There was a lot of hostility,” the father said.

Hosam told his father that he wanted to join the U.S. Army. “I’m willing to join them and fight in Iraq,” his father recalled. But he showed no interest in politics, his father said. “He was bad with geography. I don’t think he even knew where Afghanistan and Pakistan were.”

Hosam attended high school in Santa Clara, his father said, but dropped out after a fire at his apartment in February 2008.

Then, without telling his father, Hosam drove to Dallas. Maher Smadi said his son later told him that a man named Riyadh, who lived in a Dallas suburb, said he could get him a job at a barbecue restaurant in the town of Italy, about 40 miles south of Dallas. Hosam briefly lived in the Dallas area.

Then, around April 2008, he moved near the restaurant, Texas Best Smokehouse, in Ellis County.

Maher Smadi said he called Hosam once or twice a week on his cellphone. Hosam seemed happy working as a cashier at the restaurant. He lived in a housing development along U.S. Highway 77. One friend described his home as simple and neat, with a stereo, laptop, weights bench, TV and bed.

Hosam’s marriage

Maher Smadi doesn’t recall when his son first mentioned he was married. But he said he wasn’t shocked, and he didn’t disapprove. “I knew he was doing this to get a green card” — a permanent resident card issued by the U.S. government that permits noncitizens to stay in the country. Foreigners who marry a U.S. citizen can apply for a green card, though approval is not automatic.

Maher Smadi said he wired his son $4,000 to pay for an immigration attorney in Arlington.

Hosam got married to Rosalinda Duron on July 16, 2008, court records show. Duron, 20, wouldn’t comment to The News but told The New York Times that she and Hosam separated after three months and remained friends. Her grandfather told WFAA-TV (Ch. 8) that Hosam offered Duron $5,000 to marry him. But Duron denied that he paid her to get married.

His friends in Italy knew him as “Sam” and said he loved techno music, wore earrings and often wore a belt buckle decorated with rhinestones that formed a gun. He drank occasionally and smoked cigarettes, they said.

One particular day, Kellye Kines and her boyfriend Chris Husack sat in their car at the Shell station when Hosam approached and offered them a cigarette. As the trio puffed together on a wooden bench near the Texas Best Smokehouse, Hosam noticed Husack sipping a soda and began teasing him. “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you drinking a beer?” Hosam asked.

When Husack said he didn’t have the money for anything heavier, the teenager reached in his pocket and pulled out $2.

Tabatha Rogers said Hosam sometimes baby-sat her two children, ages 2 years and 3 months. He once admonished her when she tried to spank the 2-year-old after the child dropped a glass on the floor. “Don’t you spank him, he doesn’t deserve it,” Hosam told her. “Just get me a dustpan and we’ll clean it up.”

But there may have been more to Hosam than he was showing them. At some point, he started visiting extremist Islamic Web sites, according to the FBI.

Tewfiq Smadi, 61, a longtime family friend who lives in Irving, said he thought Hosam might have picked up his violent thinking online. “He’s a kid,” he said. “He doesn’t have anybody to instruct him, raise him — barely anybody from his family [lives] around here.”

Hosam’s alienation is not uncommon among young people who arrive in U.S. to start anew. Husein Khuzaii, the Jordanian sociologist, said Hosam faced a critical turning point: “Moving from Jordan to the U.S. must have been a culture shock. In such cases, a person would either integrate or keep away and become self-centered.” If they become self-centered, “they are really susceptible to thinking in an extreme way.”

The last week of April of this year, Maher Smadi flew to Dallas to see his son. During the 10-day visit, Maher Smadi noticed a change in Hosam. “I realized he had started to pray. He had a prayer cloth,” he said. “I was surprised.”

His son now criticized the Israeli crackdown in Gaza, which flared up in 2008. “The Israelis are killing Palestinians in front of the whole world,” he told his father.

“I was really afraid. It was a big change,” Maher Smadi said. “I was thinking, ‘What’s happening to you?’ I was actually worried, what if radicals get to know Hosam? Would they brainwash him?”

He asked Hosam what had caused this sudden interest in Islam and politics. “God showed me the way. I know the path,” Hosam said.

Maher Smadi told his son to come back to Jordan, but Hosam wanted to stay in the U.S. to get his green card. The father thought about reporting Hosam’s behavior to Jordanian intelligence officials. “I should have reported that I saw a change in my son’s behavior. I think if I did that, I would have saved him.”

But he said nothing. “Basically, I didn’t think it would be that serious,” he said. “I thought it was a whim.”

On Sept. 24, Maher Smadi called Hosam. It was early Thursday morning in Texas — late afternoon in Jordan, which is eight hours ahead. He asked Hosam for an update on his green card application. “He seemed happy,” he said.

Unbelievable news

The next morning, Maher Smadi saw a news report that a Jordanian man had been arrested by the FBI. “I had a suspicion it was Hosam,” he said. He received a phone call from a friend confirming it was his son; he saw a full report on the news.

The FBI had arrested Hosam the day before in the sting. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t talk,” Maher Smadi said. “Then I had a billion phone calls.” Relatives, friends and the media called throughout the day — and the calls have not stopped.

Hosam’s brother, Husein, was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in California on the same day as his brother’s arrest in Dallas and charged with overstaying his visa, according to an agency spokesman. He is being detained in San Francisco, awaiting preliminary hearings on Tuesday.

“Hosam was turned into an extremist with the help of the FBI,” Maher Smadi said at his home in Ajloun. “They deceived him. … They played with him.” Everyone he meets in his city agrees with him, including Hosam’s friends and teachers at the Ajloun Baptist School.

Dr. Robert Taylor, executive director of the W.W. Caruth Jr. Police Institute at Dallas, a national urban policing think tank, said Hosam Smadi may well have been distraught.

“But that’s kind of like saying, ‘Well, you know, Osama bin Laden was really upset because a lot of his friends got killed, and a lot of his family members were involved ... and he lost a lot of money,” Taylor said.

“Clearly there are people who have been abused, who have been victimized, and they aren’t ever wired tight ... but it still doesn’t relieve them of the burden of guilt that they have,” he said.

Hana Elrabadi, the Jordanian who first took in Hosam in California, blames Hosam’s father. Hosam was struggling with depression and psychological problems and never should have left Jordan. “I would not leave my child in any city” without family support, he said.

Maher Smadi rues that decision. “What I regret the most is sending him to the U.S.,” he said. “I apologize on behalf of my son to the Americans. My family, my relatives and I have never been supporters of terrorism. We denounce all forms of terrorism.”

He has no idea what will happen now. A few days ago, he got his first call from one of Hosam’s public defenders. Richard Anderson, the chief federal public defender in Dallas, told him that he had talked to Hosam for three hours. The language barrier made it hard for the two men to communicate.

But the lawyer said one thing that Maher Smadi understood clearly.

It was a message from Hosam.

“Dad, I love you.”

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