On Friday Dearborn Police, at the request of the FBI, arrested Ali Hammoud, president of Bintjbeil Cultural Center in Dearborn, in connection with a cigarette-smuggling conspiracy in support of Hezbollah. (“Arab leader from Dearborn released from police custody”).
According to the FBI, Hammoud was arrested by mistake because he “fit a description on an arrest warrant. A man named Ali Hammoud was indicted in 2003 in a conspiracy involving the sale of illegal cigarettes to support Hezbollah.”
So after talking to the banquet hall Hammoud, the FBI let him go. According to Hammoud’s lawyer, Majed Moughni, "It's mind-boggling; it's uncalled for. To do this to one of the most respected members of the community, it's a slap in the face."
Well, it’s not mind-boggling, but a word on that later. And even a lawyer ought to grasp that mistakes are usually “uncalled for.” After Hammoud was released Moughni took a more moderate tone, admitting that the FBI “blundered."
But this is Dearborn. Law enforcement blunders are opportunities for the area’s Islamists to make mischief, usually by demanding tighter shackles on terror-related investigations in the future. And at this stage it’s puzzling indeed how the FBI could have confused Bintjbeil Cultural Center’s president with an individual who fled to Lebanon several years ago, unless there is a factual link between the conspiracy and the banquet center. But without knowing the facts behind the arrest warrant, I’m not going to speculate on that.
This early on a weekend, the response from the usual Islamist complainers has been low key, but I expect that to change. Arab-American News publisher Osama Siblani has already stuck his beak in.
"We will not rest until we find out what happened, and we want to make sure it will never happen again," Siblani said. "This is a respected community leader. I never doubted his innocence." (“Wrong man arrested: Head of Arab-American center in Dearborn released”).
If Siblani means that Hammoud is innocent of supporting Hezbollah, that’s especially rich, coming from arch-Hezbollah supporter Siblani. This is how Siblani sounded in 2006, when he was defending the open support by thousands of Dearborn’s Arabs for Hezbollah leader Sheik Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah:
"If the FBI wants to come after those who support the resistance done by Hezbollah, then they better bring a fleet of buses," said Osama Siblani, publisher of the local Arab-American News and an outspoken activist. "I for one would be willing to go to jail." (“They're 100% American, and pro-Hezbollah”).
After an invitation like that. Siblani has no business griping if the FBI actually follows up in some small way. And, no, so far the big-talking Siblani hasn’t gone to jail.
But speaking of blunders, do you know who else was helping Siblani sing the praises of Hezbollah back then? That would be yet another Hammoud (relationship to Hammouds I and II unknown to me), namely Abed Hammoud, the former Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor and, in 2006, leader of the extremist Congress of Arab American Organizations who led the rally of 15,000 “100% American” Dearbornites chanting “Nasrallah is our leader!” So where’s the blunder? Abed Hammoud was recently sworn in as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. (“Inside, Outside, Upside Down”).
Bintjbeil’s Hammoud may well be innocent of the other suspect’s cigarette-smuggling conspiracy, but his banquet center is well-known in Dearborn as a meeting place for Hezbollah supporters, known to local law enforcement as the Hezbollah Social Club. The cultural center is named for the village of Bint Jbail in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, from which thousands of Shi’ite Muslims emigrated to Dearborn. “They're 100% American, and pro-Hezbollah”). Last year Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah leader Nasrallah exchanged evil hopes for Israel there, and A-jad made a speech: "The whole world knows that the Zionists are going to disappear," he said to thunderous applause before a frenzied crowd in Bint Jbeil.” According to Debbie Schlussel, an event she attended at the Cultural Center in 2006 featured speeches from many speakers offering in common “multiple statements about the Jews, cheers for the total destruction of and end to Israel, and support for Hezbollah, the Mujahideen, and the Martyrs.” (“What I Saw in Dearbornistan”).
And, as we’ve discussed here for some time, Dearborn is a big source of illegal contributions to Hezbollah. (“Dearborn, Michigan: Where Hezbollah Gets Its Laundry Done”).
In spite of attorney Majed Moughni’s outburst, there’s nothing “mind-boggling” about Bintjbeil’s Hammoud being suspected by the FBI of being mixed up in a conspiracy to support Hezbollah.
And what Siblani and the rest are concerned about isn’t Hammoud’s “innocence” or his standing in the community. They’re much more upset that the Detroit FBI is actually targeting Hezbollah in Dearborn.
And that’s what they’ll be trying to stop.