Man enters unusual guilty-but-innocent plea to terrorism bomb plot at busy Chicago bar
By JASON MEISNER | Chicago Tribune | Published: November 27, 2018
CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Adel Daoud pleaded guilty Monday to terrorism charges alleging he tried to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound car bomb outside a crowded Loop bar.
He also entered a guilty plea to separate indictments accusing him of soliciting the murder of an FBI agent and attacking a fellow inmate with a jailhouse shank.
In all, Daoud was convicted of 10 counts and faces up to life in prison. But there’s a catch.
He still insists he didn’t do anything wrong.
“My understanding is that I am pleading guilty, but I am maintaining my innocence,” Daoud told U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman near the end of an unusual, two-hour hearing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.
After a twisted legal saga that has dragged on for more than six years, Daoud, 25, was convicted under what’s known as an Alford plea, a rarely used legal arrangement in which he acknowledged prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him but did not admit wrongdoing.
Daoud’s attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, said the plea made sense because the stress of going though a trial would only exacerbate his client’s mental health issues.
Prosecutors objected to the arrangement, arguing that allowing Daoud to plead guilty without admitting his conduct would lend credence to his repeated claims that he was entrapped by the government and targeted because of his Muslim faith.
In court Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas insisted on reading a lengthy recitation of the facts for each count Daoud faced, saying it was important to show the public that federal authorities had stopped someone bent on committing a terrorist attack.
“The public has a right to know what’s going on here,” Jonas said. “I consider this an FBI success story.”
Durkin shot back that prosecutors were on their “high horse” talking about what the public needs to know.
“That is a two-way street,” Durkin said.
By accepting the unusual plea, Coleman agreed to sentence Daoud simultaneously on the combined three cases at a hearing beginning April 29.
Prosecutors said they would need at least three days to present evidence and call witnesses, including the undercover agent whose murder Daoud solicited.
Daoud, who has been in custody since his arrest in September 2012, faces a wide range of potential punishments, from essentially time served to up to life in prison.
Maneuvering to get all of his cases before Coleman was clearly appealing to Daoud’s attorneys. Coleman has struck a sympathetic tone with Daoud in pretrial hearings and sided with his attorneys in finding him mentally unfit for trial after Daoud made bizarre statements accusing the judge, prosecutors and even his own attorneys of being members of a purported secret society known as the Illuminati.
He also called Coleman a reptilian overlord.
"It appears that his belief in the Illuminati, the Freemasons and lizard people is sincere and escalating," Coleman said at the time.
Daoud spent months at a psychiatric facility in North Carolina before being declared rehabilitated. In March, both sides agreed he was stable enough to go to trial as long as he remained on his prescribed psychotropic medications. Jury selection had been set to begin Monday, but it was scuttled after Durkin filed a surprise request to enter the Alford plea.
In court Monday, Daoud smiled broadly as he was led into the courtroom by deputy U.S. marshals, kissing his fingers and gesturing toward his parents in the courtroom gallery. Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and wearing thick black glasses, Daoud kept his hands behind his back for most of the hearing, answering in a soft but clear voice when Coleman asked him questions about his background and whether he understood the proceedings.
The unusual nature of the plea had both sides — and even the judge — struggling at times on the correct way to proceed. At one point, Coleman ordered a recess after she asked Daoud if he was insisting he didn’t do anything illegal, then appeared to second-guess her question.
Daoud, of Hillside, was 17 when he came under FBI scrutiny in 2011. A prosecution filing last week included new details about Daoud’s activities leading up to the government sting.
As far back as Sept. 10, 2011 — the day before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — Daoud was exchanging messages online about his hatred of the U.S. government and his desire to die a martyr, according to the 19-page filing.
In February 2012, Daoud sent a video to friends featuring short clips of jihad songs, according to the filing. The first song encouraged listeners to “get up and shake off your slumber” because Muslims around the world had declared holy war and “returned with submachine guns.”
“I listen to these on my iPod!” Daoud wrote to his friends, according to the filing. “Including the terrorist one! … I say I want to be a terrorist!”
FBI analysts posing as terrorists exchanged messages with Daoud and eventually got him to meet with an undercover agent, who was purportedly their "cousin" interested in waging jihad, according to the filing.
Over several months, Daoud and the agent met several times in the Chicago area to discuss potential targets for an attack, including movie theaters, a suburban mall and military recruiting centers, the filing alleged. Daoud’s handwritten notes he brought to one meeting made reference to a “big bomb.”
In one meeting in Villa Park in August 2012, Daoud allegedly told the agent he wanted to maximize the carnage so he would feel like he "accomplished something."
"If it's only like five, 10 people, I'm not gonna feel that good," the charges quoted Daoud as saying. "I wanted something that's ... massive. I want something that's gonna make it in the news like tonight."
Once he selected the downtown Cactus Bar and Grill, Daoud conducted surveillance of the busy bar and repeatedly pushed to carry out the attack as soon as possible, prosecutors said in the recent filing. On Sept. 14, 2012, as Daoud and the FBI agent drove to pick up the purported car bomb, Daoud “prayed for the success of the attack and that it would kill many people and cause destruction,” the filing alleged.
Daoud drove the Jeep to the Loop and parked it directly outside the bar, then walked to an alley about a block away. FBI agents swarmed in after he twice pressed the detonator, the filing said.
Two months after his arrest, Daoud was being held at the Kankakee County Jail when he offered to pay $20,000 to his cellmate to have fellow street gang members track down and murder the agent who’d deceived him, saying that “all spies must die,” according to the filing.
“I could let things go, like, I don’t hold grudges, but he still has to die,” Daoud allegedly said to the other inmate. He also suggested different ways the killing could be carried out, including running the agent over with a vehicle, shooting him during what appeared to be an attempted robbery, or stabbing and beheading him, the filing said.
“Get rid of him, you know what I mean, throw out the trash,” the filing quoted Daoud as saying.
When the inmate asked Daoud if his conscience might bother him after the killing was carried out, Daoud said, “Who do you think I am? I think you should at least give me some credit.”
Federal agents instructed the inmate to tell Daoud his fellow gang members had tracked down the agent in upstate New York and to give him a phone number and secret code to call to set the hit in motion, according to the filing.
“Once you call today, man, he dead,” the inmate allegedly told Daoud.
Later that day, Daoud placed the coded phone call to the hit man from jail and “then watched the news for reporting regarding the death of the undercover (agent),” the prosecution filing said. He later asked the inmate for the “gory details” on the agent’s death.
Daoud was also charged in 2015 with attempting to kill another inmate at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the high-rise federal jail in the Loop.
Prosecutors said in the recent filing that Daoud already had assaulted the victim once after the inmate drew a picture of the Prophet Muhammad — which Daoud considered an insult to his religion.
In May 2015, Daoud again attacked the victim, this time using a toothbrush he’d fashioned into a shank to slash the inmate while he slept in his cell, prosecutors said. The victim was treated at a hospital for a gash to the head and a bite mark on his arm that Daoud inflicted during the struggle, according to the prosecution filing.
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