Sami Al-Arian and Mazen Al-Najjar are named with Osama bin Laden in a raid of Islamic groups the government says may be linked to terror.
By MARY JACOBY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Federal agents on Wednesday raided 14 homes and offices around northern Virginia for information about terrorist financial networks, an operation aimed in part at Sami Al-Arian.
A copy of a search warrant, obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, shows that investigators are interested in a network of organizations connected to M. Yaqub Mirza, head of a mutual fund company and an associate of a wealthy Saudi Arabian family.
Among the organizations is the International Institute for Islamic Thought, a nonprofit organization in Herndon, Va., that was a major funder for Al-Arian's now-defunct think tank at the University of South Florida.
The FBI raided Al-Arian's think tank, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, or WISE, in 1995. Federal investigators long have alleged that Al-Arian, a controversial USF computer engineering professor, used WISE and a related Islamic charity to help raise money in the United States for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization.
But authorities have never charged Al-Arian with a crime.
The raids occurred on the same day that John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor, filed a lawsuit against Al-Arian in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.
Among Loftus' allegations is that federal prosecutors "reluctantly" terminated their 1995 investigation of Al-Arian because of pressure from the State Department, which did not want Al-Arian's activities to be traced back to Saudi Arabia.
In a telephone interview, Loftus said the raids Wednesday were supposed to be conducted in January but were suddenly called off.
"That's why I ended up doing this stuff," Loftus said, saying there was concern that political pressure again could thwart an investigation into Al-Arian.
Loftus' lawsuit closely tracks Wednesday's events. For example, the lawsuit alleges that prosecutors in 1995 knew that nonprofit organizations at 555 Grove St. in Herndon, Va., were the "primary source" of Al-Arian's funding for WISE, but failed to act against them because of the alleged political pressure.
The International Institute for Islamic Thought's address is 555 Grove St., and federal agents were seen there Wednesday carting out boxes of materials.
In an unusual move last month, Mac Cauley, then-interim U.S. attorney in Florida's Middle District, announced that his office was investigating Al-Arian. Cauley did not elaborate.
USF president Judy Genshaft suspended Al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian and permanent U.S. resident, from his teaching position at USF amid intense post-Sept. 11 controversy about his alleged terrorist ties.
Al-Arian, reached earlier Wednesday, could not be reached later in the day for comment on the raids.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, Steve Cole, did not return a request for comment. Spokesmen for the U.S. Custom's Service and Justice Department also declined to comment because affidavits filed in support of the raids were filed under seal.
But the raids clearly had an effect.
Laura Jaghlit, a high school teacher, was close to tears as she described the raid in a telephone interview. She said about 20 armed agents descended on her home around 10 a.m. and tore the place apart. They carted off anything written in Arabic and the family computer.
"My kids pictures are thrown all over my bedroom. My drawers are dumped out. And then they just leave," she said.
Mohammad Jaghlit, 62, a physician, said in a telephone interview he used to volunteer at the International Institute for Islamic Thought, a scholarly Islamic research organization. But he said he ended his work there in 1996.
He said he is also associated with another organization named in the search warrant, the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences. But Jaghlit said he was shocked to be raided and denied any knowledge of terrorism.
The warrant also seeks: "Any and all information referencing in any way PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad), Hamas, al-Qaida, WISE, ICP, Sami Al-Arian, Basheer Nafi, Mazen al-Najar (sic), Ramallah Shallah (sic), Khalil Skikaki, Sheik Odeh, Sheik Rahman, Usama Bin Laden, and any other individual or entity designated as a terrorist by the President of the United States, the United States Department of Treasury, or the Secretary of State."
The warrant seeks immigration documents and "pamphlets, leaflets, booklets, video and audio tapes" for the above named, all of whom investigators have previously connected to Al-Arian and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The search warrant also provides insight into leads prosecutors may be pursuing of a Saudi connection to Al-Arian, who has consistently denied association with terrorists.
The warrant seeks information about the SAAR Foundation, an educational and health charity founded by the Al-Rajihi family of Saudi Arabia.
Tax records show the SAAR Foundation's U.S. operations ended in December 2000. The records also show that SAAR claimed the same 555 Grove St. address named in Loftus' lawsuit.
In addition, the warrants seek information on a string of other organizations that either shared the 555 Grove St. address or are associated with Mirza, chairman of Amana Mutual Funds Trust and an officer of the SAAR Foundation.
The warrant also seeks records relating to Mazen Al-Najjar, Al-Arian's brother-in-law. Al-Najjar is a former WISE employee who spent 31/2 years in jail on the basis of secret intelligence information allegedly connecting him to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
A Palestinian, Al-Najjar eventually was released, only to be re-arrested in November when his appeals ran out in his long-running deportation case.
An attorney for Al-Najjar, Joe Hohenstein, said he did not know why investigators had named Al-Najjar in the warrant. He called it a "very big surprise" to see the International Institute for Islamic Thought listed.
"It was always a very well-respected research place," Hohenstein said, "as far as I knew."