Fariz worked for doctor, visited Mecca recentlyBy ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003
SPRING HILL -- For the better part of a year, Hatem Naji Fariz managed the business affairs of a Hernando County doctor's office. He lived in an attractive Spring Hill home with a child's plastic basketball hoop in the driveway.
At the same time, according to a federal court indictment unsealed Thursday, Fariz aided University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian in a fundraising campaign for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Middle Eastern terrorist group.
The government says it has evidence that Fariz was raising money for terrorists as late as November.
The indictment says investigators taped a phone conversation in which Fariz talked about the "shell organization" he used to move money, bank accounts, and donations to Hamas, a movement that has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts.
Investigators say that in a June phone conversation Al-Arian sarcastically suggested that Fariz seemed upset or sad about a car bombing in Israel that killed 17 people and wounded 45. Fariz laughed.
In September, Al-Arian asked Fariz about getting donations from his employer, the indictment says.
Fariz, who faces charges from racketeering to conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, was arrested at his home early Thursday, said his brother, Ahmad Fariz of Chicago.
Later, FBI agents raided the two Hernando offices of Dr. Ayman Osman, the internist who said he made Fariz his office manager in early 2002. The FBI declined to discuss its work, but agents were seen taking photographs, collecting documents and removing computer hard drives.
Osman, who was not named in the indictment, told the Times that he supported the government's investigation and was unaware of any terrorist fundraising activities.
"As a physician committed to healing, I cannot comprehend the support of any organization or individuals who commit senseless acts of evil. And I will do everything in my power to assist in this matter," Osman said in a statement.
Osman said he did not know about the FBI's interest in Fariz until they showed up at his Northcliffe Boulevard office Thursday. Osman said he is not under investigation himself.
But the FBI was looking for Osman. Before 7 a.m., agents knocked on the door of a home on Gate Circle that the current resident, Lubomir Ondracek, once rented to Osman. They asked if he knew where Osman lived, Ondracek said. He didn't.
When interviewed Thursday, Osman wouldn't say where he was.
"My understanding is that everything that happened," Osman said, "everything that (Fariz) has been accused of, happened before he came to Florida. That it happened when he was in Chicago."
Osman said Fariz never asked him for charitable contributions.
According to the indictment, Fariz said donors were stingier in Florida than in Chicago. People here have incomes, he said during a phone conversation in May, but they are suspicious about who gets the money.
The Chicago brother, Ahmad Fariz, said he saw Hatem on Monday. Hatem had just flown in from his hajj to Mecca -- the pilgrimage all devout Muslims are supposed to make once in their lives.
He said his brother is a "peaceful" person with a wife, Manal, and two children, ages 3 and 6. When they talk, they discuss family, not politics. "He's not a person who would want to harm anybody at all," Ahmad said.
Their parents, who are Palestinians, left Israel in the 1960s for what Ahmad called "the best country in the world" -- America.
On Thursday morning, six cars were parked in front of Hatem Fariz's house on Farley Avenue, just south of Spring Hill Drive. A man who answered the door said no one would talk to the Times.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks