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"We should not impose the unnecessary risk of over 200 Al Qaeda terrorists coming to Illinois, posing a danger to our families," U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Northbrook) said in a press conference Monday.

Guantanamo detainees don’t pose threat to Chicago, experts say

by Mari Fagel
Nov 17, 2009

Mari Fagel/MEDILL

Illinois Congressional Republicans condemn possible transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to Illinois at a press conference Monday.

Transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to a prison 150 miles west of Chicago will have no impact on the city’s security, experts on terror say.

“We are already a high visibility area,” said Charles Tucker, executive director of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University. “I don’t think it will create any more problems for the city of Chicago than we have already experienced.”

However, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Northbrook) denounced the proposal to move detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay to the largely vacant Thomson Correctional facility.

“As home to America’s tallest building with her busiest airport, this is an unnecessary risk to homeland security in the state of Illinois,” Kirk said in a press conference Monday.

Turning the state facility into a federal prison could provide up to 2,000 jobs and up to $1 billion in federal money, according to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Yet, Kirk said the possible boost to the economy is not worth the risk.

“Once here, federal law mandates these terrorists have a right to visitors,” Kirk said. “Federal policy allows up to 10 followers or family members per prisoner. With 215 coming to Illinois, that would be over 2,100 Al Qaeda followers and family members connected to Jihad coming to Illinois, likely connecting through O’Hare airport.”

Yet, Democrats and terror experts dismiss that calculation.

Not all of the 215 detainees would be transferred here, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). Rather, fewer than 100 Guantanamo detainees would be housed in the 1600-bed facility.

Federal prison guidelines allow wardens to restrict visitation when necessary. Thus, these detainees are not likely to have any visitors at all, said terror expert Thomas Mockaitis.

“This idea that we will have an Al Qaeda visitation express through O’Hare airport is absurd,” said Mockaitis, a history professor at DePaul University. “It’s not going to happen.”

A spokesman for O’Hare airport said it would be premature to comment on the effect of the move on airport security.

Tucker, the terror expert, said the move won’t impact airport security whatsoever.

“People that fly through O’Hare are under a great deal of scrutiny,” Tucker said.

“O’Hare has everything from X-ray screening to facial recognition software. If I was a terrorist, I wouldn’t want to subject myself to that.”

However, Kirk points to history to back up his claim that visiting terrorists pose a threat. Attica State prisoner El Sayyid Nosair helped orchestrate the 1993 World Trade Center bombing from behind bars, according to Kirk.

While in prison, Nosair was visited by Omar Abdel Rahman, a terrorist responsible for the bombing. Nosair was later tried and convicted for his role in the attack.

“We should learn the lessons of the state of New York,” Kirk said.

About 340 inmates linked to international terrorism are currently behind bars in U.S. federal prisons. Mockaitis said there have been no incidents with these inmates, so we shouldn’t expect any from the Guantanamo detainees.

“We’ve got [9/11 terrorist] Zacarias Mossaoui in Colorado and Colorado has not received any increased threat as a result of this” Mockaitis said. “I think what you are seeing is the worst kind of political grandstanding.”

White House officials said it’s unlikely the Guantanamo facility will close by the administration’s self-imposed January 22 deadline.