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TAMPA -- In the case against Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants, federal prosecutors are relying heavily on intercepted telephone calls and faxes that purportedly establish links to terrorists in the Middle East.
It remains unclear what methods the U.S. government used to obtain the communications, which appear to date from 1994. But former federal prosecutor John Fitzgibbons said the electronic surveillance likely involved a "humongous" logistical effort.
"There had to be literally a small army of federal agents who worked on the case," he said, including translators and the possible use of top-secret surveillance techniques. "I have a feeling there's a little more involved than just bugging a phone call."
Al-Arian and seven co-defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering in connection with murder, extortion, money laundering, providing material support to terrorist organizations, and the fraudulent misuse of visas.
The government says the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a defunct think tank Al-Arian founded at the University of South Florida, was a front for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Fitzgibbons said reading the indictment reminded him of a Tom Clancy novel. He said the case, which he expected could take six months to try in court, reflected the government's commitment to aggressive antiterrorist action after the bloodshed of Sept. 11, 2001.
"It's a new era. Ten years ago, nobody would have even thought of an indictment like this," Fitzgibbons said. "These are now the priority cases in the world of the United States Justice Department. Whatever these cases need in terms of money or agents, they will have."
-- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813-226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org .