Chaldean accused of Iraqi spying

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Paul Egan / The Detroit News
STERLING HEIGHTS — An active member of Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community and a younger brother of the late patriarch of the Chaldean church was secretly indicted for spying for Saddam Hussein shortly before he died, court records show.

Jamal Bidawid, who was 67, died of a heart attack in a health club hot tub last month, federal officials said Thursday.

Since then, Bidawid, of Sterling Heights, has been praised by some users of an online message board popular with Chaldeans as a “great Assyrian,” but denounced by others as a traitor.

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Federal court records show Bidawid was named in a sealed federal indictment in August, accused of infiltrating opposition groups and spying for Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service. He was the third Detroit-area man charged with spying for Saddam.

On Nov. 27, U.S. District Judge Julian Abele Cook quietly dismissed the charges of conspiracy, illegally acting as a foreign agent and violating the embargo with Iraq. Cook cited Bidawid’s death Nov. 7 as the sole reason for the dismissals.

Though charged, Bidawid had not been arrested or arraigned and the charges against him had not been publicized.

“I don’t believe it,” Bidawid’s daughter, Balsam Bidawid of Hazel Park, said Thursday. “He was not a spy.”

But Andy Akrawi of Sterling Heights, a local member of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, said intelligence reports Bidawid filed about Detroit-area members of the group that opposed the Saddam Hussein regime were found at Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters after the fall of Baghdad.

“Who could you trust more than the patriarch’s brother?” Akrawi asked. “I’m so sorry he died. I wanted to go see him in jail.”

Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Jamal Bidawid’s older brother, died in Beirut, Lebanon, in July 2003.

According to the indictment, which was ordered unsealed Nov. 19, Bidawid illegally acted as an Iraqi agent from 1998 until 2002, used the code name “374,” and was paid several thousand dollars by the Iraqi Intelligence Service to cover expenses.

Bidawid, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen, provided the Iraqis with cassette tapes and other materials, the indictment alleges. The indictment does not mention the specific groups Bidawid allegedly spied on. It does mention a trip Bidawid allegedly made in 1999 to the annual Assyrian Book Fair in Chicago.

Sam Darmo, a Phoenix, Ariz., Realtor who hosts the California-produced satellite television program “Assyrians for Justice,” said he exposed Bidawid on his TV program in March.

“He spied on the Chaldean community in Detroit, the Assyrian community in Chicago, and mainly the Assyrian Democratic Movement,” endangering relatives of members who were still in Iraq, Darmo said, adding that he has copies of the Iraqi Intelligence Service reports related to Bidawid.

Balsam Bidawid said she knew FBI agents had questioned her father, who was retired from the plumbing and heating business, but her understanding was that federal officials had dropped the matter.

Ghazi Al-Awadi, 78, of Dearborn, was this month sentenced to 18 months in prison for spying for Iraq. Al-Awadi, who earlier served prison time for stabbing his son-in-law to death, bolstered his credentials with the Iraqis by telling them the killing was related to his son-ion-law’s connections to an opposition party, officials said.

Najib Shemami, 59, of Sterling Heights, who allegedly traveled from Michigan to Iraq on several occasions between 2002 and 2003 to meet with Iraqi intelligence officials, is awaiting trial.