Witness has harsh words for Al-Arian

Muneer Arafat says Al-Arian tried to recruit him into a faction of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 1988.

Published June 10, 2005

TAMPA - The trial of Sami Al-Arian and his three co-defendants got lively Thursday when Muneer Arafat took the stand and offered a pithy sound bite for why he broke from Al-Arian and his supporters in 1988.

"They are sending their kids to Duke University and Yale University from Tampa while they are sending someone else's kids to do a suicide bombing."

No sooner had he said it than U.S. District Judge James S. Moody struck the pronouncement from the record, agreeing with the defense that there was "no foundation for it" because it was not clear how Arafat could know this.

Arafat said that in 1988, Al-Arian tried to recruit him into a faction of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But a recent Reuters report says the PIJ did not begin using suicide bombing as a tactic until 1994. And in 1988 Al-Arian's oldest child was just in the third grade.

During cross-examination, Al-Arian's defense attorney, William Moffitt, shot more holes in Arafat's testimony, which was presented by the prosecution in an attempt to bolster the charge that Al-Arian Al-Arian and the other defendants conspired to fund violence against Israel.

Moffitt asked Arafat about the $35,000 he received from the U.S. government in the past year and a half for "providing counseling for the FBI."

Arafat said he had spent months and months talking to a suspect in another case at the request of the FBI, which collected much of the evidence in the Al-Arian case.

An imam at a Sarasota mosque till the end of 2003, Arafat told the jury that he met Al-Arian in December 1988 at a St. Louis conference of the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which Al-Arian had founded that same year.

Arafat, a government witness, testified that Al-Arian asked him to join the Shiqaqi faction of PIJ, which the Islamic Committee for Palestine supported. But Arafat declined, he said, even though at the time he supported the intifada - which he described as "kids supporting the Palestinian army."

Arafat said he pledged money to Al-Arian anyway, even though he had decided that he didn't want to be part of Al-Arian's Shiqaqi faction. Arafat said he supported the PIJ in 1988, just not the part of it that Al-Arian supported.

Arafat's faction of the PIJ, which he called "part of Al Jihad Al Islamia," was the Tamimi faction, he said.

Arafat said that at the 1988 conference, the Islamic Committee for Palestine raised $50,000, which he believed went to "Jihad Islam," which he said was another name for the PIJ.

In the back of magazines distributed at the 1988 conference were leaflets from Jihad Islam or the PIJ, Arafat said.

At the 1988 conference, Al-Arian let Arafat pass out 100 to 200 fliers from the Tamimi faction, explaining its point of view, Arafat said.

In the summer of 2002, according to Arafat's testimony, he saw Al-Arian when he "came to Tampa to give condolences for the death of Al-Arian's father." Arafat said that Al-Arian said something at that meeting about "operations," which Arafat believed, from experience, was code for "terror attacks" by the PIJ in Israel.

While being questioned by prosecutor Terry Zitek, Arafat said he had lied about being a U.S. citizen on a resume, on a job application to be a prison chaplain and on a voter registration form.

When cross-examined about the lies, he said: "Lying is against Islamic law. But there is a white lie and a devil lie. If you lie to harm someone, that's a devil lie, and I would not do that."

Moffitt, the defense attorney, asked Arafat if he had had "words" with Al-Arian over the years, if he had been angry at him.

"Yes," said the government witness.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors entered evidence seized in the November 1995 raid of the Tampa headquarters of the World & Islam Studies Enterprise, also founded by Al-Arian.

In that search, the FBI took 50 boxes of material.

An FBI agent who coordinated the raid pointed out the logo of the PIJ on seized papers, in an attempt to connect the workings of WISE in the early '90s to the PIJ.

The prosecution also entered into evidence photos of Al-Arian and co-defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh at Islamic Committee for Palestine conferences in the early 1990s. They are shown with people whom the U.S. government later identified as PIJ leaders closely associated with terrorism. But, at the time, all had visas to be in the United States.

The government also entered into evidence a flier from the Muslim Women's Society, which the government alleges was a front for getting money to the PIJ. The brochure requested $35 for monthly donations for Palestinian orphans.

The defense also used the brochure, to say that money raised by the organizations founded by Al-Arian was not used for terrorism but for helping the needy.