The post-9/11 world has been characterized as rife with racial profiling, whether justified or not, in the name of national security concerns. Loyola University Chicago sophomore Osamah Abdallah learned this first-hand after being falsely accused of plotting a terrorist attack.
On Nov. 15, Adam Hart, a student from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, pled not guilty Wednesday, Nov. 15 to a charge of maliciously conveying false information after sending a hoax letter last spring to the National Security Agency (NSA) accusing Abdallah.
Hart, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at the time, wrote in his letter to the NSA, "I feel it is my duty as an American to inform you that Osamah Abdallah of Loyola Chicago was talking to me online about strapping a bomb to his chest and walking into the Sears Tower. I hope you take action against him."
Calls and e-mails requesting comment from the University of Massachusetts have not been returned.
In a letter of apology to the NSA, Hart admitted he had used the Web site Facebook.com April 17, searching for "a variety novelty names" including variations of the name Osamah.
He found Abdallah's account and sent him an e-mail containing derogatory slurs. Abdallah responded and an exchange ensued, culminating in Hart's April 22 letter to the NSA, as well as an e-mail sent to Abdallah declaring, "I just ratted you out to the NSA, you [expletive] terrorist."
Hart explained that he was "under the influence" and the NSA letter was an attempt to be funny in front of his friends.
"I wasn't thinking how serious it was to send the NSA an e-mail," Hart's statement read. "I was honestly just surprised that I had even found an e-mail address to send it to."
Hart could not be reached for comment.
The federal government, however, treated Hart's implication of Abdallah with the seriousness it does every potential terrorist threat.
"Everything is credible unless the source tells us otherwise," NSA spokesman Don Weber said. "But we certainly prefer people not make false threats."
As with standard protocol, the NSA passed the information onto the FBI and the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Working together, the organizations oversaw the securing of the Sears Tower, and the FBI located Abdallah at Loyola, pulling him out of class.
Abdallah showed the FBI his Facebook account and the series of exchanges he had with Hart.
"Although I was disappointed by what happened to me in the beginning," Abdallah said in a statement to the Phoenix, "I learned that I am surrounded by amazing people who are open-minded and well-rounded and are willing to give some of their time to understand their fellow citizens who come from different backgrounds."
Realizing the threat lacked credibility, the FBI subsequently contacted Hart, who denied any involvement in the incident.
Hart later admitted in a signed statement to the FBI his involvement, stating, "I'm truely [sic] sorry and appoligize [sic] for whatever resources I have wasted."
Following his arraignment, Hart was released on a $10,000 bond. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
"Hoax bomb threats prey on the public's worst fears and divert the time, attention and precious resources of law enforcement from its true mission," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said, in addition to calling the crime "despicable."
Abdallah expressed his thanks to those around him for their support throughout the incident.
"Whether it was my friends in the Muslim Student Association, my classmates and teachers, Jack McLean, director of Student Leadership, some of our Jesuit priests here at Loyola, the Unified Student Government, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and others, they all stood with me and showed their support and concern," Abdallah said.
CAIR, the United States' largest Islamic civil liberties group, works as an organization dedicated to providing a balanced view of Islam and Muslims.
"CAIR attempts to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims, whether between educational institutions, law enforcement agencies or on a personal level," Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago, said.
Rehab said that CAIR approached Abdallah's case much the same way they would in similar cases, advising him to cooperate with the authorities in any way he could. He also expressed regret over the manner in which the FBI arrested Abdallah.
"It wasn't right for the authorities to embarrass him the way they did," Rehab said. "By arresting him in the middle of class, they subjected him to unjust treatment."
However, Rehab made it clear that CAIR had addressed this issue with the FBI, requesting an apology, which was received.
From a larger perspective, Rehab stressed the importance of tolerance within American society, especially regarding the Muslim community.
"Muslims are very vulnerable to discrimination, especially in a post-9/11 reality," Rehab said. "All it takes is an accusation to turn someone's life on its head, as was the case with Osamah. It is especially telling in that this was a random act of one person doing an Internet search and finding someone to discriminate [against]. People seem to feel that anyone with brown skin is a target. It is important for individuals who feel this to contact CAIR."
When asked how he felt about the arrest and indictment of Hart, Rehab responded with faith and expectations for the future.
"Justice is being served and I hope it continues to be served," Rehab said. "I hope this sets a precedent where, eventually, acts like this will no longer occur."
Abdallah also conveyed his optimism for the future following his experience.
"What happened to me showed me that there is still some oppression that we have to face," Abdallah said. "However, the good has surpassed the ignorance, and I am confident that we will continue to move forward in the right direction."