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Terror Indictments

Suspect living in Gaza Strip denies terror allegations

©Associated Press
February 23, 2003

BEIT LAHIA, Gaza Strip -- One of eight people indicted in Florida on terrorism-related charges denied the allegations Saturday, saying he had visited the United States several times and had nothing against Americans.

On Thursday, a 50-count indictment was unsealed against University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and seven other alleged members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Abdel Aziz Awda, 52, one of the charged, currently lives in the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with the Associated Press he said he had visited the United States several times from 1989 to 1991 and met Al-Arian during that time, but did not say when. He also did not say what the two talked about.

"I was surprised by the whole allegation. I don't know where they came from. I have no political connections to any political groups now," Awda said. "I don't understand what the claims are against me. Where did I break any laws? Can they prove it?

"I have no problems with Americans and in fact I really appreciate Americans," he added.

Four of the eight, including Al-Arian, were arrested in the United States. Four others are abroad, including Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah, who is in Damascus, and Awda.

Awda, one of Islamic Jihad's first members, left the group a decade ago after falling out with other members, Jihad officials said Friday. Awda insists he was never a member.

He is, however, a member of the Palestine National Council, the Palestinians' parliament-in-exile, and in 1997 voted in favor of revoking sections of the PLO charter that call for Israel's destruction.

Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks against Israelis since violence erupted more than two years ago. Scores of people have been killed and wounded in the attacks, which include suicide bombings.

Awda was deported by Israel to Lebanon in 1988.

He returned to the Gaza Strip in 2000 when many other Palestinian officials were permitted to re-enter after the signing of an interim peace deal.

"I am a Muslim and I believe in encouraging Islam. If I had a political connection, Israel would have indicted me first. I visited Chicago, New York and Washington," Awda said. "I think they got the wrong guy. Did I break any laws, did I commit any crimes?"

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