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Video shows Hillside man conducting surveillance ahead of 2012 bombing attempt

Dirksen Federal Courthouse. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Before Adel Daoud pushed the button on a 1,000-pound car bomb he thought would level the downtown Cactus Bar and Grill in September 2012, a secret video camera caught him conducting surveillance.

It captured Daoud, then 18, as he sat in the driver’s seat of a black Mercedes, appearing to take pictures of his surroundings. Outside the Mercedes, a sign could be seen that read “Eat Drink & Get Out.” The video is dated August 25, 2012.

Three weeks later, Daoud would try to trigger a Jeep filled with bags of fertilizer that smelled strongly of gasoline — an inert explosive given to him by the FBI amid a terrorism investigation that would end with Daoud’s arrest. Now, more than six years later, Daoud’s sentencing hearing has finally begun at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.

Promising to last much of the week, the hearing could reveal new details about a case that has lingered for years without resolution because of national security concerns and Daoud’s mental health troubles. Today Daoud is 25 and has spent much of his life behind bars.

Defense attorneys for the Hillside man insist the FBI targeted a mentally troubled teen who pondered the use of a “flying car” in an attack but posed no real threat on his own. They want him to leave prison in time to start college in the fall of 2021. But prosecutors want Daoud sentenced to 40 years, arguing that Daoud expressed a desire to kill with “unbridled enthusiasm” and declared, “I want Allah to use me to destroy this country.”

On Monday, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Parsons testified that, “there’s no doubt he was actively taking measures to learn how to conduct an attack.”

Adel Daoud | File photo
Adel Daoud | File photo
File photo

Following his arrest on September 14, 2012, Daoud also asked a fellow inmate to help him have an FBI agent killed. Then, in May 2015, Daoud tried to kill another inmate over a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.

Last fall, Daoud admitted the facts revolving around his arrest but still denied culpability, entering a specialized guilty plea known as an Alford plea.

When his sentencing hearing resumes Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is expected to hear from an undercover agent whose identity prosecutors have sought to protect. The judge has considered closing the courtroom if his identity can’t be protected through a disguise or some other means. It wasn’t clear Monday evening how they would proceed.

Parsons spent much of the first day of the hearing reviewing Daoud’s online ramblings. Defense attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin says his client was a victim of government entrapment. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas made clear through Parsons’ testimony that Daoud had terrorism on the mind well before the feds first made contact with him online in May 2012.

Durkin then played video of Daoud’s surveillance during his cross-examination of Parsons. Though Daoud’s outfit is difficult to make out in the video, Durkin said Daoud had been wearing a turban.

“That would be a pretty conspicuous way to go conduct surveillance,” Durkin said.

Parsons disagreed.

“His intention is to kill American civilians,” Parsons said. “And then he conducted surveillance on a target.”