Chicago Tribune: Man faces new charges in 2003 van explosion

A Burbank man was arrested Monday on federal charges he violated the civil rights of a Muslim family when he allegedly tossed a fireworks explosive into their unoccupied van.

Eric K. Nix, 26, has been convicted in Cook County of misdemeanor charges stemming from the same 2003 incident.

Shortly after his arrest at 8:30 a.m. Monday, he pleaded not guilty to the federal charges before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ian Levin.

Nix was performing community service as part of his sentence for the misdemeanor conviction when U.S. deputy marshals arrested him.

His punishment in September 2003 in Cook County Circuit Court, 200 hours community service and two years’ probation, was criticized as a “a slap on the wrist” by Muslim civil rights groups and the victim, Abbas Salmi.

“We are definitely pleased with the fact that justice is taking its due course,” said Fadi Farhan, director of governmental relations for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“The punishment in any case should fit the crime, and this charge fits the act more than the previous [charges].”

Nix’s defense attorney could not be reached for comment.

The new charges against Nix represent an unusual case of the federal government charging a defendant under a different statute for the same incident for which he was tried at the state level, officials said.

Asked what led to the new charge against Nix, Assistant U.S. Atty. Sergio Acosta said it would be inappropriate to comment.

Daniel R. Alba, 31, was also charged federally in connection with the incident for allegedly making false statements to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm agents.

Prosecutors alleged that Alba of Burbank told ATF agents he did not know who caused the explosion. He also pleaded not guilty and faces a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Both men were released on their own recognizance.

Nix pleaded guilty to arson, criminal damage to property and committing a hate crime for the March 2003 attack, just days after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

He was convicted for throwing a brick through a window of a Muslim-owned furniture store in 2001, officials said. He spent 30 days in jail.

The “large, mortar-type firework” exploded and caused irreparable damage to the van and terrified Salmi’s family, said Salmi’s attorney, Betsy Shuman-Moore of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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