The Terrorist Who Loved Me
BY EUGENE CASEY (as told to by Francois Cassar)

After 9/11 many Americans decided to take action in the effort to fight terrorism.  Some joined the military, some joined the intelligence services, some joined the police and some applied for the FBI.  The FBI had an urgent need for people fluent in select foreign languages.  One such patriotic applicant was an American immigrant named François Cassar.

The hiring process was not easy; it’s a long and arduous process that can literally take years.  Many of us in the counterterrorism business, whether it be law enforcement or in the intelligence business, have experienced that “gulp” moment during our background investigation.  This is the moment you are strapped to the polygraph machine and the FBI polygrapher asks you that one question you were dreading.  For many of us that question had to do with drug policy and that marijuana experimentation you did in college.  Or that year you failed to file a tax return or that one-off juvenile act of graffiti vandalism or some other such trivial yet guilt inducing event in your young life. For François that question was “Have you ever had any contact with terrorists?”

François Cassar played the guitar.  When he was younger, he played it so well and so often, some of his friends called him François Guitar.  François played lead guitar with a local rock band called The Pink Panthers.  He sang too.   He also played solo and had a gig with an ad hoc trio at Cocody, a fancy restaurant near the Beirut International Airport.  The trio consisted of a pianist, a singer and François. 

The time was the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and the place was Beirut.  These were the days when Beirut was a vibrant city, full of life, before the civil war.  Beirut was cosmopolitan, pulsing with night life, a place where the sexual revolution thrived and political revolutions simmered.   Unlike other cities of the Middle East that fell under the spell of dictators and nationalistic socialist movements, Beirut attracted the region’s wealth, its educated elite, foreign corporations and Western tourists.  There was not yet a Green Line, a Christian sector, a Muslim sector.  Beirut was warm and sunny and its people were fully alive. 

In 1968 the trio got the gig at Cocody through the host of the Lebanese TV show Pêle-Mêle.  Pêle-Mêle was a musical competition show, a precursor to American Idol.  One night François was performing at Cocody accompanied by a drummer and a pianist, both of whom were drunk.  The host’s wife, Marguerite, sat alone at a table with a drink in her hand, smiling sweetly at François.  A few weeks earlier she had taught François how to drive in her white Simca 1100.  It was the same car she used to drive François to the gig that night.  The booziness of his fellow musicians made them play sloppily, bothering François to the point where he resolved not to become a professional musician.  Instead, he set his sights on becoming an international businessman.

Suddenly, in mid-song, there was a huge explosion and the lights went out.  François realized that it was an airstrike.  François grabbed Marguerite, who was dazed, and took her to her car.  François jumped in behind the wheel and floored it.  A helicopter appeared overhead and trained its spotlight on the Simca.  Machine gun fire rang out and the Simca was hit.  Luckily, they were not injured, but the trunk of the Simca sported a bullet hole as a reminder of how close they had come. 

The Israeli Air Force had bombed empty planes parked at Beirut’s airport  in retaliation for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) attack on an El Al jet in Athens two days earlier.  The PFLP was based in Beirut.  François realized that the helicopter was just trying to keep civilian cars away from the airport.

François was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Lebanese parents in 1947.  He and his family moved back to Beirut in 1960.  François was born into a Christian family, and during the run up to Lebanon’s civil war, before Beirut was divided into Christian and Muslim sectors, he moved to Kuwait in 1973.  François’s work later took him to Paris, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United States.   In Saudi Arabia, François had his own construction company and helped build the aircraft facility in the Wadi al-Sahba in Al-Kharj, which housed the U.S. made Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft.  This facility, now known as the Prince Sultan Air Base, was later used by U.S. forces to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War.  Another company that was busy reconstructing Al-Kharj in the 1990’s was known as the Bin Laden Group. 

In 1980 François moved to Cherry Hill, New Jersey and became a U.S. citizen in 1987.  After the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, François, now living in Chicago, like many patriotic Americans, wanted to serve his country.  He applied to the FBI, hoping to work as an Intelligence Analyst or a translator, since, in addition to English, François spoke French, Arabic, German and Spanish. As part of the hiring process, the FBI interviewed François and submitted him to a polygraph examination.  Among the many questions they asked, they wanted to know if he had ever had any contact with terrorists.

By 1972 François was still a student playing gigs at Cocody but he also worked in the downtown Beirut office of Swiss Air.   His student days were nearly over and a future in business beckoned.  François worked behind the counter helping customers who came in from the street.  One day a beautiful young Japanese woman came into the Swiss Air office.  She was distraught, in tears.  François asked her to sit down and got her some water.  The woman explained that she had lost her ticket for her flight back home to Tokyo.    These were the days of paper tickets, before electronic ticketing, and François knew her claim could not be immediately verified.  François promised to help her, told her not to worry, and asked her to return again the next day.

François then got to work, sending a teletype to the Swiss Air office in Tokyo to verify her reservation, purchase and payment.  François received a response the next day, verifying her story.  They had found her transaction and authorized François to reissue her ticket.  He did so and called to tell her that her ticket was ready.

François was alone in the office when she returned to pick up her ticket.  It was the middle of the summer and they had a long talk.  She told François that she thought Lebanese men were very handsome.  He asked her what she was doing in Lebanon.  She said she was in Lebanon working on her Masters degree and was studying the plight of the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon.

The next time François showed up at the Swiss Air office, he found two dozen red roses waiting for him.  A note with the flowers thanked him for his help in getting the ticket reissued.  François understood what it meant to receive red roses from a woman.  With business between them concluded, François took the initiative, calling her and asking her on a date.  Her name was Fusako.  She taught him how to pronounce it correctly, starting with the combined sound of an F and an H.

Fusako agreed to see François.  For their first date, François took her to La Creperie in Kaslik, a romantic spot perched on a cliff overlooking a marina in the Mediterranean.  They went to cafes, night clubs, concert halls and restaurants.  François played his guitar for her.  A romance blossomed.  Fusako taught François the song Sakura, a traditional Japanese folk song.

 sakura sakura   cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
 
 noyama mo sato mo  in fields and villages
 
 mi-watasu kagiri   as far as you can see.
 
 kasumi ka kumo ka  is it a mist, or clouds?
 
 asahi ni niou   fragrant in the morning sun.
 
 sakura sakura   cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
 
 hana zakari   flowers in full bloom.

 sakura sakura   cherry blossoms, cherry blossoms,
 
 yayoi no sora wa   across the spring sky,
 
 mi-watasu kagiri   as far as you can see.
 
 kasumi ka kumo ka  is it a mist, or clouds?
 
 nioi zo izuru   fragrant in the air.
 
 izaya izaya    come now, come now,
 
 mini yukan    let's look, at last!

François was a student at Beirut’s prestigious Université Saint-Joseph, the academic rival of the American University of Beirut, founded by the Jesuits in 1875 where he studied engineering.  Together, the young lovers enjoyed all that Beirut had to offer.  Most of the educated in Beirut spoke French, English and Arabic.  With mountains near the sea, it was possible to ski and swim during the same day.  Being the financial center of the region, combined with the nearby mountains and its relative freedom and sophistication, Beirut was sometimes known as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

But trouble was brewing.  Below the surface, destructive forces were building up.  No one then knew that Beirut’s prosperity would end in civil war in 1975. And by the end of 1972, terrorist attacks by groups associated with the Palestinian cause (PLO, PFLP, Black September) were nearly enough to predict 1973’s Yom Kippur attack on Israel. 

During the spring of 1972, François and Fusako paid little attention to these matters.  But the romance was not meant to last.  Abruptly, and without explanation, Fusako stopped seeing François.  Saddened, François did one of the things he did best, he played guitar. 

A few weeks later, yet another terrorist attack was in the news.  This time the attack took place in Tel Aviv and became known as the Lod Airport massacre.  Twenty-six people were killed and 80 were wounded by three terrorists with machine guns.  Two of the terrorists were also killed.  The third was wounded and captured.  Strange thing was, all three terrorists were Japanese.  François read about it in the newspapers.  The papers said the terrorists were from a group called the Japanese Red Army and that their leader was a female named Fusako.  François got very scared and thought the police might come.  He wondered if she had used him.  He wondered if she used the ticket that he had given her to escape. 

Several weeks after the attack, François received a postcard from Algeria.  It was from Fusako.  She said she was sorry, and that by now, François probably realized why she left Beirut.   François was stunned to realize that Fusako was involved with the attack in Tel Aviv, that Fusako was the leader and founding member of the Japanese Red Army, a group advocating communist revolution through violence, a group that had aligned itself, through Fusako, to the PFLP.   François tore up the postcard.

Later that summer, François met Nadine, the beautiful woman he would marry, the woman he would take with him to start a family away from the violence of the Middle East. 

Before 9/11 and François’s employment interview with the FBI, Fusako returned to Japan after 30 years in the Middle East.  She was arrested in November, 2000, in Osaka.  She was sentenced to 20 years in jail after being charged with using a false passport, helping another member of the Japanese Red Army to obtain a false passport, and for attempted manslaughter for her role in planning and commanding the joint Japanese Red Army and PFLP hostage taking at the French Embassy in The Hague in 1974.  Fusako pled guilty to the passport charges but pled not guilty to her role in the hostage taking.  She remains in prison. 

François, meanwhile, told his story to the FBI polygrapher and was eventually hired to be a French and Arabic language analyst for the FBI.  François remained in Chicago working for the FBI until his transfer to the small FBI office in the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 2012.  François continues to work on many of the FBI’s top counterterrorism investigations, including the 2015 Paris attacks and a cold case involving Israel, the PFLP and Carlos the Jackal.  François, however, has yet to knowingly associate with any other known terrorists outside of official business. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
  Eugene J. Casey is a native of New York City.  Mr. Casey obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree as well as a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.  Before joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Casey was employed as a Compliance Officer by the Wall Street investment banking firms of First Boston Corporation and Salomon Brothers Inc.  Mr. Casey also worked as a Market Manager for Pepsico Inc. and as the Allowance Tracking System Manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  In 1996 Mr. Casey was appointed as a Special Agent of the FBI and was assigned to the Salt Lake City, Utah, office of the FBI where he worked on white collar crime matters, drug money laundering investigations and on the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.  Mr. Casey received several awards for his work in Utah, including an award from the USDA for a successful undercover electronic food stamp benefit fraud investigation, Department of Justice awards for several drug money laundering investigations and for spearheading the Salt Lake Olympic Bribery investigation, and a distinguished service medal from the Salt Lake City Police Department for a Colombian drug money laundering investigation.  In 2003 Mr. Casey was appointed as a Supervisory Special Agent in the Counterterrorism Division in Washington, D.C. where he worked in the Arabian Peninsula Unit and as the Supervisor of the Joint Task Force on Terrorist Finance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  In 2004 Mr. Casey was appointed Unit Chief for the Eurasian Organized Crime Unit of the Criminal Investigative Division.  In this capacity, Mr. Casey had oversight of the Russian Organized Crime program, the Budapest Project, the Middle Eastern Criminal Enterprise program and the FBI's involvement in the Southern European Cooperative Initiative (SECI).  In 2006 Mr. Casey reported to the New York Office of the FBI as the Supervisor of a Money Laundering task force.  In 2008 Mr. Casey supervised an FBI Securities Fraud squad.  In 2011 Mr. Casey became the FBI’s Assistant Legal Attaché in the US Embassy in Paris, France.  In 2015 Mr. Casey was appointed to serve as an Interviewing and Interrogation Instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.


BACK TO MAGAZINE...