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Man slain in Chicago, 15 years after leaving South Sudan for better life: 'I have much respect for him'

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 11/9/2018 By Hannah Leone, Chicago Tribune
a blurry close up of a screen: Stock image of crime scene tape (not the actual scene). Ali Khabab was slain Thursday evening in his West Rogers Park neighborhood after moving from Sudan over 15 years ago. © Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS Stock image of crime scene tape (not the actual scene). Ali Khabab was slain Thursday evening in his West Rogers Park neighborhood after moving from Sudan over 15 years ago.

CHICAGO - Leaving behind so many loved ones was difficult, but Ali Khabab had aspirations - and cousins in Chicago.

He said goodbye to his family and friends in South Sudan 15 years ago and found a new home in one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, West Rogers Park.

It was there, on his back porch, that he was gunned down just before 11 p.m. Thursday. Two people walked up and at least one of them fired shots, hitting Khabab, 33, in the back, police said.

An ambulance took him the three miles from the red brick apartments in the 6100 block of North Talman Avenue to Presence St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. He was pronounced dead minutes after midnight, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

"He missed his family back home, so we are his family here," said Adel Sobhi, who considered Khabab his older brother.

Better opportunities, such as education, drew Khabab to the United States, where he earned his G.E.D. before enrolling in college classes, Sobhi said.

The two met in 2012 while working at the same grocery store on Howard Street in Rogers Park. For nearly three years, it would often be just them in the store. They became close, Sobhi said. Outside of work, they enjoyed hanging out together, getting dinner or coffee or playing video games, mostly FIFA.

When Sobhi lost his phone, Khabab used his laptop to track it down, then drove his friend to get it back. "He is a really sweet smart guy," Sobhi said. "I have much respect for him."

Khabab liked the Barcelona soccer team and hookah bars, his friends said. He was extroverted and smart, good at science and technology, and spoke three languages: English, Arabic and some Spanish, according to his friends. He used Snapchat and Instagram, but not Facebook.

Recently, Khabab had been studying computer science at East-West University and driving for Uber, his friends said. University officials could not immediately be reached.

It had been nearly 15 years, nearly half his life, since he had seen his parents, his sisters and brothers, and he would cry about that sometimes. In those moments, his friends would calm him down and remind him they were here for him, Sobhi said.

Khabab worked hard, saved what he could and sent money back to his parents.

Friends and cousins at the hospital tried to call Khabab's parents, but hadn't been able to reach them. "They don't know yet, they don't know that he got shot and (is) dead," Sobhi said.

The early calls about shots fired led police to the intersection of Talman and Glenlake Avenue. When officers got there, someone flagged them down and told them the shots had come from the alley between Talman and Rockwell, a source said.

In the alley, a neighbor told the officers the shots sounded like they'd come from the apartment next door. On the apartment's back stairwell, the officers found Khabab. They taped off a crime scene in the alley between three-story red brick apartment buildings.

After hearing the shots, one woman saw two people in dark clothes running south through the alley. She believed one of them was wearing a mask, a source said.

A friend, who asked not to be named, said he had called Khabab about a half hour earlier and made plans to stop by. When he got there, he noticed the lights were off in Khabab's room, and his phone was going straight to voicemail.

Outside the hospital, the friend recalled police asking him if he'd heard any gunshots.

"Are you sure (he) died?" another friend asked. "Are you sure?"

No arrests have been made.

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