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