FBI denies service award, claims recipient holds ties to terrorism

Published October 9, 2003

DETROIT (AP) - The FBI has rescinded an award it had planned to give to a prominent area Arab-American leader and raised questions about his ties to people the government wants to deport.

Imad Hamad, who heads the Michigan branch of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, had been scheduled to receive a prestigious service award in Washington for his for his work with law enforcement after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Detroit Free Press reported in a story yesterday.

Local conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel and the Zionist Organization of America - one of the oldest pro-Israeli groups in the nation - led the attack last month against Hamad. They charged that he is sympathetic to terrorists and unworthy of the honor.

Hamad said the allegations that he supports terrorism are baseless and came from fringe groups with no credibility.

The national office of the ADC said it was considering legal action against Schlussel and the Zionist Organization of America for statements about Hamad.

"We will not tolerate the defamation of any member of our organization, particularly Imad Hamad," ADC President Mary Rose Oakar said in a statement. "He has worked so hard to bridge dialogue between government and communities."

Schlussel and the Zionist Organization of America were especially upset that the FBI was honoring Hamad along with flight attendant Madeline Sweeney, who told authorities by phone the details of her plane's hijacking before it crashed into the World Trade Center.

The FBI had planned to fly Hamad, who lives in Dearborn, to Washington yesterday and pay his travel expenses for the ceremony, which was to honor just him and Sweeney.

In the past, the U.S. government had tried to deport Hamad, hinting he might be connected with a terrorist group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. But in 1999, an immigration judge ruled the government's evidence linking Hamad was vague and uncorroborated.

Schlussel, though, wrote a column last month on her website and in the New York Post that reviewed Hamad's past and lashed out at him and the ADC, alleging they support groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hamad has said repeatedly he's against killing innocent civilians. He said Schlussel "lacks credibility" and pointed out that he was cleared of any links to terrorism.

But late Tuesday, Willie Hulon, the head of Detroit's FBI office, visited Hamad in person at his office and told him the FBI was taking back the award.

The move pleased the Zionist Organization, whose president, Morton Klein, said by phone from Jerusalem that it's "an important step in continuing the war against all terror groups."

Schlussel also said the move was good news.

"I'm glad they rethought this," she said. "It's a tremendous victory over terrorism and those who support it."

But it stunned many Arab Americans in the Detroit area.

"I'm absolutely furious," said Mo Abdrabboh of Dearborn. "It's a blatant insult without any regard for Hamad or the community."

Abdrabboh said he and others are considering resigning from BRIDGES, a group of local law enforcement officials and Arab Americans that meets monthly in Detroit to discuss various issues, including terrorism

Late Tuesday, the FBI released a statement saying that Hamad was somehow connected with people who could be deported.

FBI officials didn't elaborate on how Hamad may have been tied to the potential deportees.

But they released a statement that said FBI Director Robert Mueller "has decided to present only one Exceptional Public Service award," which will go posthumously to Sweeney.