Township assessor wiser, warier after Nov. 22 mugging

? Ali ElSaffar reassessing safe behavior after being punched and robbed by three men on street near his home last week.

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By BILL DWYER

Nobody ever expects to be the victim of a crime, and Ali ElSaffar is no different. The Oak Park Township Assessor was walking home from the grocery store last Monday night when the unexpected happened less than a block from his home. It started with a plea for help.

"Some guy tried to talk to me from behind," ElSaffar said.  ElSaffar is more than willing to be helpful. But he's also aware of the dangers of life in an urban setting.

"If you have experience in an urban area, you kind of just keep walking and ignore them," he said. This particular person, however, wasn't about to be ignored.

"He must have been walking fast," said ElSaffar, who added that the man quickly caught up with him and told him that two other men were going to beat him up. "He tried to gain my sympathy," said ElSaffar, who still thought this was just another street person trawling for spare change.

"Usually they're just trying to get you to give a couple of bucks," he said.

This time, though, no one was interested in asking. While ElSaffar's head was turned to listen to the man, two other men approached him quickly.

"I turned around and there were two other guys coming at me," he said. Too late, he realized that he'd been set up.

"They lifted my jacket over my head and punched me a couple of times," he said. "I went down to the ground, and (one of them) fished around in my pockets until they found my wallet."

Luckily the men didn't take ElSaffar's house keys. He walked half a block to his home, and immediately called the Oak Park police. They were, he said, "very responsive."

"Within seven minutes, they were in my house, questioning me," he said.

ElSaffar suffered a bruise near his eye, which is pretty much healed now. It's left him wiser and warier, though. Looking back on the incident, ElSaffar said the experience of being attacked by human predators was akin to something one sees on the Discovery Channel.

"It reminded me of how certain animals catch prey," he said. "One guy was pushing me in one direction, and I turn around and I'm cornered by two other guys."

The experience has also led him to alter his personal habits somewhat.

"I've been a little more cautious," ElSaffar said. "I'm looking around more." "I still took a walk Sunday night," he said. "Just earlier."

ElSaffar admits to taking some solace in the fact that the three thugs who assaulted him got little for what will result in felony charges if they're ever caught.

"I had $2 in my wallet. That's 67 cents each," he said with something resembling  a laugh. "It's a small consolation that they didn't get much for their troubles."

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