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updated: 6/8/2013 5:58 PM

Man who fled 1979 murder charge arrested at O'Hare

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Associated Press

A former Chicago store owner who fled the U.S. in 1979 after being accused of killing a shoplifter was arrested at O'Hare International Airport while trying to return to the country to attend a graduation ceremony, authorities said Saturday.

Ata Yousef El Ammouri, 65, was taken into custody Friday after arriving on a flight from Jordan, where he has been living, the Cook County sheriff's office said in a statement.

In his visa request from a couple of weeks ago, El Ammouri stated that the reason for the visit was to attend a grandchild's graduation, said sheriff's spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.

Demertzis said she did not know where the graduation was to take place, but that authorities were told El Ammouri had a connecting flight to Tennessee. It's not clear which city.

El Ammouri is accused of shooting 31-year-old Joe Harris on the morning of July 22, 1979, after Harris walked out of El Ammouri's store on Chicago's South Side without paying for a can of beer.

El Ammouri was charged with murder but posted $100,000 bail and disappeared. He received additional charges for jumping bail in November 1979 after he failed to show up for court proceedings.

Authorities believed at the time that he had fled to avoid prosecution.

El Ammouri was brought to bond court Saturday and ordered held without bond. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney. His next court date was set for Monday.

The operation to track and arrest him also involved the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the man's arrest after 34 years "should send a message that the simple passage of time does not eradicate our commitment to bringing fugitives to justice."

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