Agents looking for links to terrorists, federal spokesman says
September 24, 2010|By Andy Grimm and Cynthia Dizikes, Tribune reporters
Federal agents searched homes of anti-war activists in Chicago and Minneapolis on Friday in an investigation of possible links with terrorist organizations in the Middle East and South America.
About 20 FBI agents spent most of the day searching the Logan Square residence of activists Stephanie Weiner and Joseph Iosbaker, Weiner said.
In Jefferson Park, neighbors saw FBI agents carrying boxes from the apartment of community activist Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network. In addition, Chicago activist Thomas Burke said he was served a grand jury subpoena that requested records of any payments to Abudayyeh or his group.
"The warrants are seeking evidence in support of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism," said Steve Warfield, spokesman for the FBI in Minneapolis, where six additional homes were searched Friday.
Warfield said no arrests had been made and that there was no "imminent danger" to the public.
Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman in Chicago, gave the two Chicago blocks where agents had searched homes Friday, but he declined to name the targets.
Melinda Power, an attorney for Weiner and Iosbaker and a longtime friend, said agents took about 30 boxes of papers dating to the 1970s, including a postcard from an old girlfriend of Iosbaker's.
"They said they would determine what was evidence later," Power said.
Weiner, who said she and her husband for years have been active in labor causes and the anti-war movement, complained the search was an attempt to intimidate her and other activists.
"We aren't doing anything differently than we have in 20 years," said Weiner, a teacher at Wilbur Wright College. Iosbaker is a staff member at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a union steward for Service Employees International Union Local 73.
Burke said he received a grand jury subpoena requesting records of payments to Abudayyeh's organization as well as two groups among the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The subpoena also requested "items relating to trips to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian territories of Israel." Burke said he toured Colombia eight years ago with members of an oil workers union there.
Burke, a former school custodian-turned-stay-at-home father, belongs to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a group mentioned in subpoenas and search warrants issued Friday to activists in Minneapolis.
Burke said he knows Weiner, Iosbaker and Abudayyeh from years of involvement in demonstrations and activities in Chicago. Most of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas attended anti-war rallies at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., he said.
In a statement issued on behalf of the activists, Minneapolis activist Steff Yorek said the homes of a number of anti-war, socialist or pro-Palestinian groups had been searched by the FBI.
Yorek, whose home was also searched Friday, called the searches "an outrageous fishing expedition."
"Activists have the right not to speak with the FBI and are encouraged to politely refuse," she said.
Several of those targeted with warrants or subpoenas are also occasional contributors to Fight Back!, a socialist newsletter that is generally supportive of leftist groups and critical of U.S. "wars of occupation" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Burke said.
"We pretty much all know each other," Burke said. "We barely have money to publish our magazine. We might write about (revolutionary groups) favorably, but as for giving them material aid, nothing."
Weiner and Iosbaker were also subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago on Oct. 5, Power said.
Not long after the FBI agents left, a group of about 20 demonstrators gathered outside the couple's home, carrying signs and singing "Give Peace a Chance."
Sarah Simmons, 51, held a piece of paper printed with a peace sign. She said she had known the couple for 15 years. "I think this is outrageous," she said.