Have you heard the one about the Chicago street gang and the hostile foreign nation? It would be nice if this question were just a fun riddle, but it refers to an almost forgotten terrorism conspiracy investigation from 1986.
The case was a strange but true saga of international intrigue and treason involving two wildly different organizations that no one could have ever imagined would join forces against their common enemy, the United States government.
Retired agent Bill Dyson, who served 31 years with the FBI, provides a review of the case on the true crime and history podcast FBI Retired Case File Review. During the episode, he explains how the FBI disrupted a terrorist attack planned by a Chicago street gang known as the El Rukns. According to Dyson, the group was more than a gang. It was a well-organized crime syndicate.
Dyson, who at the time led the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), was contacted by colleagues assigned to the Chicago Division’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force. During a court-ordered Title III wiretap used while investigating members of the El Rukns for drug trafficking, they had overheard tidbits of conversations. The gang’s discussions seemed to indicate the El Rukns were communicating with Libyan terrorists.
Dyson and members of the Chicago JTTF developed this information and learned that, indeed, members of the El Rukns were meeting with representatives of the then-hostile government of Libya led by Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to discuss a conspiracy to perpetrate a terrorist attack inside the United States. Libya did not have the capability to attack the U.S. on its soil. However, for the right amount of money to finance their own agenda, an intermediary proposed that the El Rukns might be willing to do the Libyans’ dirty work.
The Chicago JTTF developed enough intelligence to stand up their own undercover operation and Title III. They soon discovered that the El Rukns’ leader, Jeff Fort, although serving a federal sentence for narcotic violations, continued to run the organization from his prison cell. The electronic monitoring also revealed to Dyson and his team that an associate of the El Rukns had traveled to Libya and that members of the organization had met with Libyan representatives in Panama to formulate the conspiracy. In exchange for cash and cocaine, the El Rukns agreed to obtain military-type weapons and explosives and to perpetrate a terrorist attack in the U.S. on the behalf of the Libyans. The JTTF introduced an FBI undercover operative to obtain additional intelligence and evidence and to thwart the attack.
Based on the successful intercepts, a search warrant was executed and multiple weapons, to include hand grenades, were seized. In August 1987, a 50-count indictment was filed against five members of the El Rukn organization. All were convicted at trial and four received sentences ranging from 51 to 80 years of incarceration.
The El Rukn-Libyan conspiracy investigation marked the first convictions of American citizens for conspiring to commit terrorist acts in their country for money on behalf of a foreign government.
After retiring from the bureau, Bill Dyson was hired by the University of Illinois and authored a college textbook titled Terrorism: An Investigators Handbook. He also worked for the Institute of Inter-Governmental Research, a nonprofit serving under a grant from the Department of Justice where he provided antiterrorism training to state and local police officers throughout the United States. Bill is now enjoying a much-earned retirement and spending time with his adult children and four grandchildren in sunny Florida.
Follow this link to listen to the full case review – Episode 054: Bill Dyson – El Rukn Libyan Terrorist Conspiracy