The combination of a Chicago street gang and a hostile foreign country was heard last in the course of an almost forgotten investigation in the US into a conspiracy of trafficking terrorism in 1986. It was a global case of intrigue and treason that involved two mutually disparate organisations that had joined hands against their common enemy, the United States government.
Superannuated American sleuth Bill Dyson, who served 31 years with the FBI, has recently provided a review of the case on the true crime and history podcast “FBI Retired Case File Review”. In the episode, he explained how the FBI disrupted a terrorist attack planned by a Chicago street gang known as El Rukns. According to Dyson, the group was more than a gang. It was a well-organised crime syndicate that, it has turned out, was also into trafficking terrorists.
His colleagues assigned to the Chicago Division’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force contactedDyson, who at the time led the Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). During a court-ordered Title III wiretap used while probing members of El Rukns for drug trafficking, they had overheard bits and parts of the conversations. The gang’s parleys seemed to point at the fact that El Rukns was communicating with Libyan terrorists.
Dyson and members of the Chicago JTTF, with this information, learned that members of El Rukns were indeed meeting with representatives of the then-hostile government of Libya led by Col Muammar al Gaddafi to discuss a conspiracy to execute a plan of a terrorist attack on the United States. Libya did not have the capability to attack the US on its soil. However, for the right amount of money to finance their own agenda, an intermediary proposed that El Rukns might be willing to do Gaddafi’s dirty work.
The Chicago JTTF garnered 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 organisation from his prison cell.
The electronic monitoring revealed to Dyson and his team that an associate of El Rukns had travelled to Libya and that members of the organisation had met with Libyan representatives in Panama to formulate the conspiracy.
In exchange for cash and cocaine, El Rukns agreed to obtain military-grade weapons and explosives and to perpetrate a terrorist attack in the US on the behalf of the Gaddafi regime. The JTTF introduced an FBI undercover operative to obtain additional intelligence and evidence and thwart the attack.
Based on the successful intercepts, the detective and defence forces of the US obtained a search warrant and seized multiple weapons, including hand grenades. In August 1987, they filed a 50-count indictment against five members of El Rukn. The court convicted all the accused 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 trafficking terrorist acts into their country for money on behalf of a foreign government.
The University of Illinois hired Bill Dyson after he retired from the bureau. He then authored a college textbook titled Terrorism: An Investigator’s Handbook. He also worked for the Institute of Inter-Governmental Research, a nonprofit serving under a grant from the US Department of Justice where he provided anti-terrorism training to state and local police officers throughout America.
Dyson is now enjoying a much-earned retirement and spending time with his adult children and four grandchildren in sunny Florida.