Police in suburban Detroit mistakenly arrested the head of a popular Arab-American cultural center and held him overnight in jail, believing he was a man charged in a conspiracy to funnel money to Hezbollah from the sale of stolen and counterfeit goods.
Dearborn police claiming to be investigating a break-in asked Ali Hammoud for identification and arrested him outside his home Friday night, attorney Majed Moughni said.
"They said they had a warrant for his arrest. He was coming back from a dinner, a family gathering," Moughni said.
But police had the wrong Hammoud.
A man with the same name was indicted with 18 people in Detroit in 2003 in a conspiracy involving the sale of illegal cigarettes, counterfeit Viagra and stolen goods to support Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group. That man has not been found.
An FBI agent went to the Dearborn police station Saturday and told Hammoud he was not the man wanted by authorities, Moughni said.
Hammoud is president of Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb that is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the country. The center has hosted ceremonies for new U.S. citizens and speeches by prominent government officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, in 2009.
Dearborn police had no immediate comment. FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said police arrested a man who fit a description on a federal warrant, but the FBI was not directly involved in the arrest.
Moughni said Hammoud did not want to comment about the incident.
"He's very well respected and liked. People are angry," the lawyer said. "If this can happen to a pillar of the community, it can happen to anyone."
Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News in Dearborn, said he called the Dearborn police chief and the FBI to let them know Hammoud was the wrong man.
"This is not the end of the world but it's no small thing," Siblani said. "The charges are unbelievable. He has raised three doctors, a very down-to-earth guy. For me to even imagine he would do something like this is beyond my imagination."