Rally video a blow to Al-Arian defense
During a 1991 Cleveland conference, the defendant is introduced as head of the "active arm" of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.
By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published July 13, 2005
TAMPA - Jurors in the federal trial of Sami Al-Arian got a gripping introduction to the defendant Tuesday.
The former University of South Florida professor has not yet spoken in court, but he said plenty Tuesday when the prosecution played a videotape of a rally in Cleveland in 1991.
As Al-Arian took the stage, he was introduced as head of the "active arm" of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.
Al-Arian then stepped to the microphone and launched an emotional appeal for money and backing for battles and martyrdom in the occupied territories of Israel.
The tape is not new. It has been part of intelligence materials and news accounts about Al-Arian. But now it has become court evidence against him in his federal trial on charges of conspiring to fund terrorism. It was a significant blow to his defense and that of three co-defendants in his federal trial on charges of conspiring to fund terrorism.
In the video of the 1991 Cleveland conference of the Islamic Committee for Palestine, Al-Arian tells a large room full of adults and children, who are walking around, talking and eating, that the Oct. 6, 1987, Intifada in Gaza, in which Palestinians killed Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers, was "a fight until martyrdom."
Before Al-Arian began speaking, however, Abu Damra, the speaker who asked for donations when Al-Arian finished, introduced Al-Arian, who was standing next to him, as "the head of the Islamic Committee for Palestine ... the active arm of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine. We prefer to call it the Islamic Committee for Palestine for security reasons," said Abu Damra, a Cleveland imam.
Then Al-Arian began speaking about the effects of the October 1987 Intifada: "Gaza hasn't been calm since ... It brought new values to the sons of Palestine. Forever have gone these values that want mankind to be submissive, vanquished and inferior to the occupier ... The stones today defeat the Uzi, the tanks and weapons ... The stones that the boy, who is less than 5 years old, carries and this mother who receives the martyrdom of her children with smiles and trills of joy ... because her son has been martyred for the cause of Palestine ...
"Your brothers in Palestine are struggling with their beings, so let us struggle here with our money. ... We will not cede one meter or one span to the enemies of God!" When Al-Arian finished speaking, Abu Damra, named an unindicted co-conspirator by prosecutors in 2003 and whose name now appears on the government's witness list, grabbed the microphone and exhorted the people in the room to "protect the children of Palestine" by donating money.
"Whoever equipped a raider for the sake of God has himself raided," Damra yelled at the crowd, as people began to give money.
"And that mujahid, who took the bus and killed more than 20 Jews ... This is the Islamic Jihad movement! Anyone like to donate for the Intifada? A knife to stab the Jews ... Write your check in the name of ICP," Damra told the families in the room.
The day began with repeated objections from defense attorneys that government evidence - such as the video, books and brochures - taken from FBI searches of Al-Arian's home and the headquarters of the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise in Tampa was hearsay, not clearly sourced, and should not be part of the trial.
But, most of the time, the judge sided with prosecutors, letting the material in question into evidence as "arguably part of information in the ongoing conspiracy."
In 1991, when the video was made - it is in Arabic with English subtitles provided by a government translator - Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the ICP were not designated as terrorist groups by the United States.
In 1995, when FBI agents seized the video, the PIJ was designated a terrorist group, but Al-Arian was not arrested for eight more years, until 2003, when he was charged with conspiring to raise money for the PIJ. When the arrest occurred, the video, which for years had been part of intelligence gathering materials, suddenly became evidence for criminal prosecution.
Nevertheless, the time lapses between the gathering and storing of intelligence information and the indictment seemed to do little to dilute the effect of the 14-year-old video on jurors, who watched attentively and took notes. When it was over, some of them appeared drained, and the judge dismissed them until Wednesday.
Then, the final blow to the defense came: The judge scolded defense attorney Linda Moreno for "representing to the court that the person raising money for Islamic Jihad was not Damra."
Several hours before the video was shown, during a dramatic moment in the courtroom, Moreno suddenly called for a mistrial, stunning those in the courtroom. Her request came after prosecutor Cherie Krigsman told jurors that the video - yet to be shown at the time - would show that Damra raised $6,785 for Islamic Jihad.
Moreno said it was not clear who the speaker was and that Krigsman should not tell jurors it was Damra or that he was a fundraiser. Then the defense attorney called for a mistrial.
The judge quickly denied the request. But after the video aired and jurors left the courtroom, Moody referred back to Moreno's strong objection to Krigsman's description of Damra: "Ms. Moreno," he said, "this was an improper statement."
Earlier in the day, defense attorney William Moffitt had become involved in another testy situation when he argued with U.S. marshals in the hallway.
Marshals had refused to let Abdullah Al-Arian, Sami Al-Arian's son, enter the courtroom with a box of documents for Moffitt for the second day in a row. In response, Moffitt left the courtroom, went into the hallway and told marshals: "All I'm asking is to bring in a few documents. If you want to rummage through the box, go ahead."
[Last modified July 13, 2005, 00:27:08]
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