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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
The trial of the former USF professor starts Monday, but the case is more than a decade in the making.
By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published June 5, 2005
Sami Amin Al-Arian, 47.
Born in Kuwait, he was a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida and founder of the World Islam and Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which federal officials say were terrorist fronts. The indictment describes him as a top Jihad leader.
Others Under Indictment
Mazen Al-Najjar, 48.
Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Al-Najjar also taught at USF and worked at WISE. In 2002, he was deported from the United States after a five-year legal fight that involved secret evidence of his alleged ties to terrorism. The indictment describes him as a top leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad who handled much of its financial affairs.
Sameeh Hammoudeh, 44.
Born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace. He is a teaching assistant and doctoral student at the University of South Florida and a director at the Islamic Academy of Florida. The indictment accuses him of being a fundraiser for Islamic Jihad.
Hatem Naji Fariz, 32.
Born to Palestinian parents and raised in America, in 2001 he was president of the Chicago Islamic Center. In early 2002, he moved to Spring Hill to work as an office manager for a local medical clinic run by Dr. Ayman Osman, a Syrian. The indictment accuses Fariz of aiding in fundraising for terrorists.
Abd AL Aziz Awda, 55.
Born in Israel and imam of the Al Qassam Mosque in Gaza Strip. Along with Fathi Shiqaqi, he founded Islamic Jihad and is the spiritual leader of the group, according to the indictment. He, too, was deported to Lebanon.
Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib, 46.
Originally from the Gaza Strip, he now lives in Beirut. The indictment describes him as treasurer of Islamic Jihad and formerly of the Islamic Committee for Palestine in Tampa.
Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50.
Originally from Egypt and living in Oxfordshire, England. The indictment calls him the United Kingdom leader of Islamic Jihad; he was formerly associated with WISE.
Walter E. "Terry' Furr III, 54.
Lead prosecutor in the Al-Arian case. Also prosecuted the extortion case against Tampa lawyer Charles Corces, and espionage trial of Army Reserve Col. George Trofimoff.
William B. Moffitt, 56. Washington attorney, representing Al-Arian and past-president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has been selected for the Best Lawyers in America publication several times, and has been a member of the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2001, he took on the case of Agus Budiman, an Indonesian man with links to three of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr, 58.
Circuit court judge from 1995-2000. Appointed to the Middle District of Florida by President Bill Clinton in 2000.
TAMPA - In late December 1993, seven federal judges from around the country met in a windowless room on the seventh floor of a government building in Washington, D.C. From the lead-insulated vault, this lofty panel gave the go-ahead to secretly tape the phone conversations and faxes of a man in Tampa.
The reason: FBI agents wanted to see exactly where money, being raised and moved by Sami Al-Arian, a USF computer engineering professor, was going.
Was he raising and transferring money abroad for a violent arm of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel? Or was the money going to a charitable arm of the PIJ to help needy Palestinians get clothes, educational materials and housing?
To find out, a phone company employee in Tampa, where Al-Arian lived, entered an inconspicuous blockhouse full of circuits and wires and flipped a switch. With this gesture, years of secret taping began.
When the wiretap was shut off six years later, 21,000 hours of conversations and faxes had accumulated. The defense and prosecution have culled through about 800 hours of the records, those deemed relevant to the case by the government.
Each side has picked from it passages and records it thinks are significant. Those conversations and faxes are now at the center of a huge federal trial scheduled to begin in Tampa on Monday - a trial that promises to garner huge international attention and high emotions because of its subject.
To prepare for it, the U.S. Marshals Service has categorized the trial as "high threat" and taken special precautions. Friday, security officers set up thick plastic barricades in the street around the courthouse, to block off the lane of traffic closest to the building. They have also installed additional metal detectors and increased the number of security officers on duty. In anticipation of crowds, they have set aside overflow rooms with TV monitors for watching the proceedings. The courtroom on the 13th floor holds about 35 spectators.
The government indicted nine people, including Al-Arian, accusing them of conspiring to financially support the violent acts of a terrorist organization in Israel. But only four will be in court. The rest, not in the U.S., are not being extradited and are not in custody.
Defendants who will be present: Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatem Naji Fariz.
What jurors decide about their innocence or guilt will depend, to a large part, upon the details in the voluminous stacks of tapes, stored on CDs.
The evidence will show the men "were a little group of highly educated people trying to convince people to kill themselves on their behalf," federal prosecutor Terry Furr told the judge last week.
"There are over 50 witnesses on the (government's) witness list from Israel. None is testifying that the PIJ is responsible for deaths or that the four defendants are responsible," countered assistant federal public defender Allison Gugliardo. "It's hearsay."
Presiding U.S. District Judge James S. Moody has ruled that it is not enough to show that the defendants raised money for the PIJ. They must show that the defendants intended that money to go "for a bad purpose."
Moody said prosecutors have to do more than show the defendants contributed money knowing of previous PIJ violence. Instead, they must convince jurors that the money was intended to support new acts of violence. But that intent can be demonstrated through circumstantial evidence, he ruled.
Prosecutors will try to build a slow, meticulous case against the defendants that connects A to B to C - from the horrors of PIJ suicide bombings in Israel to the defendants' financial work for the PIJ to that money supporting new acts of violence.
Defense attorneys will constantly question the reliability of the government's information and whether the links from A to B to C are there. They will point out that knowledge or verbal support of past violence is not enough, that the link between the money and violent acts must be made.
What jurors will be weighing is whether those conversations and faxes indicate the defendants raised money knowing it would contribute to the purchase of weapons or recruitment of suicide bombers for the PIJ.
If the tapes show that defendants intended to financially help the families of dead suicide bombers, jurors will have to decide if helping these families, after the fact, encouraged violence. And, that the defendants knew this.
To make decisions about the tapes, jurors will wade through multiple phone conversations and faxes, mostly translated from Arabic. They will listen to prosecutors and defense attorneys debate connotation and idiom in the translations, argue identities of speakers and sources of information. They will listen to disagreements over what is relevant, what links do and don't exist and what goes to the heart of the case.
Here are some examples of information in the tapes that jurors will be listening to and forming opinions about, according to the 53-count indictment:
--A March 9, 1994, conversation between Al-Arian and PIJ treasurer Muhammad Khatib, also indicted, over a PIJ split and who should control the finances of the organization.
Jurors will have to decide, once they learn about the split, if Al-Arian and the other defendants want money to go to the charitable faction or the violent faction of the PIJ. They will also have to decide Al-Arian's role in the management of the organization.
--An April 11, 1994, fax from the head of the PIJ to Al-Arian saying that he, Fathi Shiqaqi, and another PIJ leader had frozen funds because of problems with how money was being spent. Jurors will have to decide if these problems have to do with defendants' siding with violent activities of the PIJ.
--A Sept.6, 1994, fax sent to Al-Arian of a PIJ report critical of the Palestinian Authority (Yasser Arafat's group). According to the indictment, the fax says the PIJ will continue activity despite the peace initiative.
The fax also includes a list of PIJ associates arrested as suspects in an April6, 1994, car bombing that killed nine near the Gaza Strip.
Jurors will have to decide if simply receiving the fax meant Al-Arian supported violence and helped fund it. They will also have to decide if he was privy to inside information about the arrests and, if so, what this means.
--A Feb.10, 1995, fax of U.S. Senate Resolution 69, sent to Al-Arian. It condemns the PIJ for a suicide bombing that killed 22, 18 days earlier at Beit Lid, Israel.
Jurors will have to decide if getting this information meant Al-Arian knew that funds he raised were contributing to violence.
--An Aug. 8, 2000, conversation between Al-Arian and an unnamed man in which Al-Arian tells him to deposit "10 shirts" in the account of a third party. Jurors will have to decide if language in the taped phone conversations is coded and, if so, what the codes mean.
The prosecution will present these letters and conversations in the broader context of meetings, speeches and trips of Al-Arian and others in an effort to show that they were intentionally backing terrorist acts.
The weight given to the words and actions of Al-Arian and his co-defendants could also turn on whether they occurred before or after Jan.23, 1995, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order declaring PIJ a terrorist organization. That came the day after the suicide bombing in Beit Lid.
The prosecution has one piece of evidence in which that bombing figures prominently. A letter to a man in Kuwait was found in Al-Arian's home in November 1995. According to the indictment, it was dated Feb.10, 1995, and in it Al-Arian "bragged about the Jan.22, 1995, Beit Lid bombing" and asked for money for more such actions. However, it is not clear from the indictment if the letter was ever mailed.
The inquiry dragged on for eight more years before Al-Arian and his co-defendants were arrested.
The judge estimates that laying the evidence out will take from six to nine months. Prosecutors and defense attorneys estimate that opening arguments will take about eight hours. The trial begins at 9 a.m. Monday, with the courthouse opening an hour and a half earlier to let people in. Courthouse security officers expect a line.
--Times researcher Catherine Wos contributed to this report.