[News] Sami Al-Arian - Fla. professor acquitted of funding Islamist group

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 6 18:02:14 EST 2005

Ex-Professor Acquitted on Several Charges

By MITCH STACY, Associated Press Writer 18 minutes ago

In a stinging defeat for prosecutors, a former 
Florida professor accused of helping lead a 
terrorist group that has carried out suicide 
bombings against Israel was acquitted on nearly 
half the charges against him Tuesday, and the jury deadlocked on the rest.

The case against Sami Al-Arian, 47, had been seen 
as one of the biggest courtroom tests yet of the 
Patriot Act's expanded search-and-surveillance powers.

After a five-month trial and 13 days of 
deliberations, the jury acquitted Al-Arian of 
eight of the 17 counts against him, including a 
key charge of conspiring to maim and murder 
people overseas. The jurors deadlocked on the 
others, including charges he aided terrorists.

Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida 
computer engineering professor, wept after the 
verdicts, and his attorney, Linda Moreno hugged 
him. He will return to jail until prosecutors 
decide whether to retry him on the deadlocked charges.

Two co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan 
Zayed Ballut, were acquitted of all charges. A 
third, Hatem Naji Fariz, was found not guilty on 
24 counts, and jurors deadlocked on the remaining eight.

"While we respect the jury's verdict, we stand by 
the evidence we presented in court," Justice 
Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.

Al-Arian's wife, Nahla, celebrated outside the 
courthouse with family members and supporters.

"I'm ecstatic," she said. "My husband is an 
outspoken Palestinian activist who loved this 
country, believed in the system, and the system did not fail him."

Moreno said she hoped prosecutors would take into 
account the "overwhelming number of not-guilty 
verdicts" against the defendants in deciding whether to try Al-Arian again.

"We are so grateful to these jurors," Moreno 
said. "They worked hard." She planned to ask the 
court soon to release Al-Arian from jail.

Federal prosecutors said Sami Al-Arian and his 
co-defendants acted as the communications arm of 
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, spreading the word 
and raising money that went toward the suicide 
attacks that have killed hundreds.

Al-Arian was considered one of the most important 
terrorist figures to be brought to trial in the 
United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 
His indictment in 2003 was hailed by 
then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as one of the 
first triumphs of the Patriot Act, which was 
enacted in the weeks after Sept. 11.

The Patriot Act gave the government greatly 
expanded powers and broke down the wall between 
foreign intelligence investigations and domestic 
law enforcement. In the Al-Arian case, officials 
said, it allowed separate FBI investigations ­ 
one of them a yearslong secret foreign 
intelligence probe of the professor's activities 
­ to be combined and all the evidence used against him.

A male juror, whose name was being kept secret by 
the court, said he did not see the case as a 
First Amendment issue, explaining that the 
decision came down to lack of proof. "I didn't see the evidence," he said.

On Monday, the panel told federal Judge James S. 
Moody that they could not reach verdicts on all 
counts. Moody sent them back to continue 
deliberations, and they emerged Tuesday to tell 
the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked on the 
remaining counts against Al-Arian and Fariz.

One juror said in a note to the judge that she 
was being pressured by other jurors to change her 
vote and could not continue to deliberate. "My 
nerves and my conscience are being whipped into submission," the juror wrote.

Al-Arian, a Palestinian who was born in Kuwait, 
has lived in the United States since 1975. He was 
granted permanent-resident status in 1989 and 
denied U.S. citizenship in 1996. He was fired 
from the university shortly after he was indicted.

The federal jury heard from 80 government 
witnesses and listened to often-plodding 
testimony about faxes and wiretapped phone calls.

The government alleged that the defendants were 
part of a Tampa terrorist cell that took the lead 
in determining the structure and goals of the 
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the State 
Department has listed as a terrorist group.

Prosecutors said Al-Arian and other members of 
the terrorist organization used the university to 
give them cover as teachers and students, and 
held meetings under the guise of academic conferences.

Prosecutor Cherie Krigsman likened the 
Palestinian Islamic Jihad to the Mafia and named 
Al-Arian as one of its "crime bosses," like TV's Tony Soprano.

The defendants said that although they were vocal 
advocates in the United States for the 
Palestinian cause and may have celebrated news of 
the terrorist group's attacks, the government had 
no proof that they planned or knew about any 
violence. They said the money they raised and 
sent to the Palestinian territories was for legitimate charities.

Al-Arian's attorney, William Moffit, said the 
professor was being persecuted for espousing 
unpopular opinions that should be protected under the First Amendment.

"Any discussion of Sami Al-Arian being the most 
powerful man in the PIJ is fantasy," Moffitt said 
in his closing argument. "He never had control of 
the money, he never made any decisions."

The case was built on hundreds of pages of 
transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and faxes, 
records of money moving through accounts, 
documents seized from the defendants' homes and 
offices, and their own words on video. At times, 
the participants appeared to speak glowingly of 
the Palestinian "martyrs" who carried out suicide attacks.

"This shows we have faith in the American justice 
system," said Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the 
Council on American-Islamic Relations, which had 
supported Al-Arian. "This has shown that America 
is not only the best country in the world, but 
the jurors proved that we also have the best justice system."

The jury also heard from the father of Alisa 
Flatow, a New Jersey student killed in a 1995 bus 
bombing carried out by the terrorist group in Gaza.

Five others indicted in the case, including 
Al-Arian's brother-in-law, have not been 
arrested. The brother-in-law was deported in 
2002, and the others also are out of the country.

Fla. professor acquitted of funding Islamist group
06 Dec 2005 21:00:24 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Robert Green

TAMPA, Fla., Dec 6 (Reuters) - A federal jury on 
Tuesday found a former Florida professor not 
guilty of funding a banned Islamist group in a 
verdict likely to be seen as a stiff blow to the 
U.S. government in its attempts to prosecute terror suspects.

The jury in Tampa, Florida, took 13 days to 
deliver its verdict against Sami al-Arian, who 
along with three co-defendants was accused of 
raising money for Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.

The panel, delivering verdicts six months to the 
day after the trial started, found al-Arian not 
guilty of conspiracy to murder, providing 
material support to a terrorist group and obstruction of justice.

The other men, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and 
Ghassan Ballut, were also cleared of most of the charges against them.

The jury was deadlocked on several other charges 
and U.S. District Judge James Moody declared a mistrial on those counts.

Prosecutors will have to decide whether to retry 
the men on the undecided charges.

The four were arrested in February 2003 and 
accused of providing money and support to Islamic 
Jihad, a Palestinian group the United States 
designated as a terrorist organization in 1997.

The U.S. government blames Islamic Jihad for 
killing more than 100 people in Israel, including three Americans.

When the defendants were arrested, then-U.S. 
Attorney General John Ashcroft said al-Arian was 
Islamic Jihad's North American leader. The 
defendants denied the charges and said any money 
they sent to the group was for charitable activities.

The prosecutors' case during the five-month trial 
in Tampa was based mostly on thousands of hours 
of wiretapped telephone calls, intercepted 
e-mails and faxes and bank records gathered over a decade.

Federal prosecutors said al-Arian, a former 
professor at the University of South Florida, ran 
an Islamic Jihad cell in Tampa with the help of the other three men.

There were over 70 witnesses called in the trial, 
which began June 6. None of the defendants 
testified in his own defense and Al-Arian and 
Ballut did not call any witnesses.

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