- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

BURBANK, Ill., March 25 (UPI) — Federal authorities Tuesday investigated whether a Palestinian Muslim family was the victim of a possible hate crime explosion that damaged their van late Friday night.

The blast shattered the vehicle's windows and blew open a door but no one was injured. Police in the suburb southwest of Chicago said a powerful fireworks-type device caused extensive damage to the 1989 Ford Econoline van, shaking doors and windows of neighboring homes.

Authorities were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. The FBI said it was investigating five other incidents.

"In Chicago in the past couple of weeks, we've seen an increase in these kinds of crimes," FBI Special Agent William Billings said. "Right now, we're looking into pretty much everything just to make sure. We want to be responsible to the community."

Billings told the Chicago Sun-Times the family of alleged Islamic Jihad member Ghassan Zayed Ballut had received four threats in the mail and a window had been broken in their Tinley Park home.

The incidents began two days after Ballut was arrested in February.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said there had been similar harassment of Arab-Americans in Chicago and at least four suburbs as the United States prepared for war against Iraq.

A threatening message was left on an answering machine at the Muslim Society in Glendale Heights, Ill.

"(We) attribute these incidents to the pro-war rhetoric leading up to the attack on Iraq, coupled with existing levels of anti-Muslim bias in American society," said CAIR Chicago chapter executive director Omar Haydar.

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