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Defense to get tapes in terror case soon

Making all tapes available will be a job, and both sides in the case involving Sami Al-Arian are hashing out details.

By Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 8, 2003

TAMPA - Defense attorneys in the terrorism case that includes former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian could have a copy of the taped conversations outlined in the indictment as early as next week.

Thousands of hours of taped conversations not mentioned in the indictment will likely take much longer to turn over, federal prosecutors said at a hearing Wednesday.

The indictment, which accuses Al-Arian and others of helping run the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, includes more than 200 taped statements from several years of surveillance. The defense attorneys, however, are allowed access to all the surveillance tapes, not just the ones mentioned in the indictment.

Making available all those tapes was not the only logistical hurdle talked about at the hearing. The government agreed to set up a room at the FBI building in Tampa for the defense attorneys to view other evidence, including documents and computer discs. Arabic interpreters also need to be hired.

Some of the lawyers complained again of limited and troublesome access they have to their clients, two of whom remain in custody at the Coleman Correctional Facility in Sumter County. They said they are often made to wait 45 minutes or longer at the facility to see their clients. They also said their clients told them their legal correspondence has been opened before they get it and phone privileges are still a problem. Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun said he had worked out some of the problems and would continue to monitor the situation. The judge referred to the issue as "a real burr under my saddle." He added, however, that they should work on the assumption that they will remain at Coleman.

Al-Arian's lawyers also said their client continues to indicate that he wants to represent himself, although he has not filed any official paperwork making that request.

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