Adel Daoud, facing charges that he had plotted to explode a bomb downtown, fidgeted and clasped at the pants leg of his orange prison jumpsuit Monday in a federal courtroom. His ankles were shackled, and he smiled at times as he conferred with his lawyer.
As security led Daoud from the courtroom, his father walked toward him so his son, whose glasses were confiscated during his arrest, would know he had come to support him. "He can't see me," Daoud's father, Ahmed, implored to courtroom personnel.
"Salam," uttered Daoud as he looked squarely at his father a short distance away. Peace, a common Arabic greeting.
Federal authorities charge that Daoud, 18, a U.S. citizen who resided in Hillside with his family, spent months researching and posting about the violent world of jihad and how he was bent on killing Americans. The native Chicagoan ultimately plotted to car bomb a downtown bar, but the FBI was onto him months ago and secretly recorded his every step, authorities said.
Daoud is accused of standing in a Loop alley, punching the trigger of the fake bomb before agents swooped in to arrest him. He was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, an offense that carries a possible life sentence upon conviction.
Cactus Bar & Grill at 404 S. Wells St. was the bar targeted by Daoud, according to a source familiar with the undercover operation, but officials would not confirm the location.
Daoud's attorney lashed out Monday at the government's case, saying the FBI targeted an immature, socially awkward teen, holding "his hand the whole way" through the scheme.
"The way the government thinks is if they find somebody on the Internet that might be talking about radical Islamic beliefs, what they do then is they have to make sure he is not going to commit terrorism, so they invite him along," said Thomas Anthony Durkin, Daoud's attorney. "I guess we have to wait and see whether or not he is going to blow up this fake bomb they have created for him. I find that somewhat suspicious."
Durkin indicated he will challenge Daoud's continued detention, expressing concern that his client would be held in isolation at the federal jail downtown. U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys set a hearing for Thursday.
According to his lawyers, Daoud was 17 when the scheme first began, putting him at the younger end of terrorism defendants in the U.S., said Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.
While it is not yet clear whether Daoud's mental capability might play a role in the case, the issue has been raised more and more among terrorism suspects who are snagged in undercover stings, Greenberg said.
"Mental instability is coming up a lot in terrorism in terms of defense," she said. "There is an awful lot of allegations on behalf of the defense that their clients are unstable."
The case against Daoud echoes that of a 24-year-old Lebanese immigrant who pleaded guilty to planting a bomb outside Wrigley Field in 2010. Samir Sami Hassoun also was nabbed in an FBI sting after an informant stepped forward to tell authorities about his desire to plan a terrorist attack in Chicago. Undercover agents constructed a fake bomb for him and arrested him after he planted it in a garbage can during a Dave Matthews concert at the ballpark.
Such terrorism-related undercover investigations are on the decline around the country, according to experts. They have long been troubling to the defense community and often lead to accusations of entrapment.
But if there was evidence that Daoud was "predisposed" to any kind of terrorist act, it is not entrapment for undercover operatives to have approached him, said Ronald Allen, a law professor at Northwestern University.
It is difficult to articulate what predisposition means, Allen said.
"That's the central problem with entrapment generally," he said. "... If you wait until they commit the crime, you might wind up with a lot of people dead."
Much of the criminal complaint against Daoud lays out how he spent months online and in email exchanges trying to encourage at least six others to join him in supporting violent jihad.
A close family member who did not want his name printed for fear of retaliation said the charges against Daoud were improbable. The family member described Daoud as absent-minded, a loner who had trouble following directions, but he said Daoud was not known to cause trouble.
"Overall, the kid is a very, very polite kid," the relative said.
Daoud, one of four children, graduated from the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park this year, Durkin said. The teen was considering enrolling in college to study Arabic, and his family was unaware of any violent tendencies, the lawyer said.
His father struggled for words Monday after court to describe the pain he was feeling.
"If you open my heart, you can't see," he said, his voice breaking.
Online and in email exchanges with undercover FBI operatives, Daoud talked of wanting to engage in terrorism here and abroad. He allegedly drew up a list of 29 targets for an undercover agent, including bars, malls and military recruiting centers before settling on the downtown location.
"I wanted something that's … massive; I want something that's gonna make it in the news like tonight," he was alleged to say in one recorded conversation.
Later, Daoud provided the name of the targeted bar and conducted surveillance on it, snapping photographs of the scene, authorities said. The FBI placed a phony bomb in the back of a Jeep parked in a lot near the bar. Just before 8 p.m. Friday, Daoud allegedly parked the Jeep in front of the bar, walked to an alley about a block away and tried to detonate the device by pressing a triggering mechanism.
In his earlier emails, Daoud wrote about how he was ignoring warnings from two different sheiks at his mosque to stop his talk of violence, according to prosecutors.
"Lol I will be the opposite," the teen allegedly wrote in one exchange about his meetings with one sheik.
One meeting included his father, who on Monday said he believed his son had been dissuaded from any violent ideas.
In those months that he allegedly was advocating violent jihad and seeking to commit terrorism against the U.S., Daoud also was active on an online petition website, signing on to a wide range of seemingly everyday causes from removing cancer-causing materials from laundry detergent to paying effective teachers what they deserved.
Tribune reporters Stacy St. Clair, Erin Meyer and Hal Dardick contributed.