The Terrorist Who Wasn't

Hollywood's Manny Ebaid struggles to rebound after the War on Terror made him collateral damage

The undercover detectives claim they ordered "an alcoholic beverage" and were served at 2:15 a.m. Exotic Bites wasn't licensed to serve alcohol past 2:00 a.m.

At the same time, according to the report, "Both detectives observed the defendant, who advised he was the owner, serve at least two subjects, which were identified ... to be under the age of 21 years old. Each minor was served a beer."

Three uniformed officers arrived, the report states, and "several minors fled the area." Two were stopped: a sixteen- and a seventeen-year-old whose names and gender are not provided in the police report.

Mara Giulianti
Mara Giulianti
Ebaid operated Exotic Bites at this now-vacant location
Ebaid operated Exotic Bites at this now-vacant location

Salvo arrested Ebaid for serving alcohol after hours, but eventually those charges were dropped. The officer could not provide evidence to substantiate the charges.

But that false arrest was only the beginning of Ebaid's troubles. Hollywood detectives claim they discovered, after detaining the restaurateur, that his name appeared on a federal list of suspected terrorists. Ebaid doubts that timeline.

"They knew in advance they wanted to get me, so they made up this charge of serving alcohol to minors," Ebaid claims today.

Even Hollywood Police spokesman Tony Rode couldn't explain why the names of the minors were not included in the original report or why Salvo was unable to provide the names later. "Maybe there really weren't any minors," Rode concedes.

There was, of course, an incentive to trump up charges to score a major collar: a suspected terrorist.

The story hit the newspapers and television stations the next day. From the first news reports, Ebaid maintained his innocence, claiming that Hollywood Police unfairly targeted him because his business — and specifically his loud Middle Eastern music — did not fit in with Mayor Giulianti's vision for rapidly changing downtown Hollywood.

"I am not a member of any terrorist group," Ebaid told CBS 4 (WFOR-TV) immediately after his arrest. "I never have been."

A sign was taped to the window of Exotic Bites: "He is not a terrorist and has never been involved in anything that would hurt this country. He loves this country and the people."

Border Patrol officers transferred Ebaid to the Krome Detention Center in west Miami-Dade, where he was interrogated by Homeland Security agents before being transferred to another detention facility in Arizona as a result of Hurricane Wilma.

"I told [federal officials], 'Take your time, but you are wasting your time, because I am not the one,'" Ebaid says. "There is no devout Muslim who has a belly dancer like I do, with alcohol around. No devout Muslim would allow that. It's just stupid. I don't understand: Why come to me? Why look at me? What did I do? I'm clearly not involved with terrorists.

"I laugh at the whole thing sometimes," he adds. "How can I not? They interrogated me, the Homeland Security agents, asking questions like 'What terrorist organizations are you working with?' I laughed at them!"

Even now, no one admits to knowing how or why Ebaid's name appeared on a terrorism watch list. At the time of his detention, the FBI claimed it had received a complaint that Ebaid had spoken sympathetically about Osama bin Laden. Even if it were nothing more than a thought crime, Ebaid denies it. What's more, federal officials have never identified the complainant or provided any evidence to establish his or her credibility.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was created in 2004 to collect information about suspected terrorists and maintain so-called watch lists, but it lacks accountability. The agency does not disclose criteria for inclusion on watch lists or how a name can be removed from the list if improperly or mistakenly added. NCTC's list of suspected terrorists — which federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies access — includes roughly 325,000 names associated with people in the United States and abroad.

But NCTC's terrorism watch list has proven so unreliable that in December 2005, the Transportation Security Administration disclosed that 30,000 airline passengers had been mistakenly identified as suspected terrorists as a result of the list. Among them was Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

In Ebaid's case, even though federal officials quickly discovered they had scant evidence to justify his inclusion on the list, they continued to push for his deportation. A minor crime came back to haunt Ebaid.

In summer 1999, Miami-Dade Police pulled over Ebaid during a traffic stop after they witnessed him visit a drug dealer who was under surveillance. Officers found Ebaid with a small bag of marijuana that weighed roughly twenty grams, only enough for personal use. Ebaid admitted to buying the drugs and agreed to provide information about the dealer in exchange for leniency. He received a sentence of one day in jail — which he served upon arrest — and the charge was erased from his record because he was a first-time offender.

But the marijuana case was enough to put Ebaid's life in the United States in jeopardy. Although he had been married since 1993, Ebaid waited until 2003 to apply for permanent residency based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen. On his application, Ebaid said he had never been arrested or convicted of a drug-related crime. That was a fib, one that Ebaid attributes to a misunderstanding. Ebaid claims he wasn't aware that he essentially pleaded guilty to felony possession of marijuana.

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