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Evidence open to interpretation

Jurors in the Al-Arian trial hear many translations, but explanations of their meanings are sparse.

Published July 26, 2005

TAMPA - Federal prosecutors in the trial of Sami Al-Arian introduced translations of phone conversations, documents and newspaper articles by the boxload Monday, but dealt only passingly with these records' overall significance.

Occasionally hints of meaning would flash on the courtroom's large display screens as prosecutors and defense attorneys doggedly questioned two government translators over renderings of brief passages and sometimes single words, such as "center" or "yesterday."

The effect for observers was like listening to an abridged reading of a story told in code. Even the jury appeared to grow weary of the monotonous questioning, asking U.S. District Judge James S. Moody toward the end of the day if there were not a quicker way to get evidence admitted. There was, it turned out, but the increased speed meant even less information about the documents.

Al-Arian, a former engineering professor at the University of South Florida, and his three co-defendants - Hatem Fariz, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Ballut - are accused of sponsoring terrorist attacks by Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel through fundraising they did in Tampa. Prosecutors say one of the front organizations for that fundraising is Islamic Committee for Palestine.

On Monday, prosecutor Cherie Krigsman presented numerous translations of issues of the newspaper Islam and Palestine , which carries letters from leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. North American subscriptions and correspondence for the publication are handled through the Islamic Committee for Palestine in Tampa, an organization founded by Al-Arian.

In an issue of Islam and Palestine from May 1989, a young man named Nidal Zalloum is celebrated as "one of the toughest mujahedeen of our movement" for his deadly knife attack that killed two people and wounded four in Jerusalem.

Cryptic excerpts of wiretapped telephone conversations between Al-Arian and his co-defendants were read aloud by prosecutors. The jury heard about "the club" and "the family." Jurors learned that "cousins" can mean Israelis as well as an uncle's children. And "backo" is the Egyptian slang term for thousand, as in "they poured into this project 90 backo," as Al-Arian is alleged to have said in one April 1994 conversation.

In that conversation with Bashir Nafi, a colleague of Al-Arian's in England, prosecutors allege the two men are discussing a bus bombing the previous week in which "the boy" was from PIJ while the car and bomb were provided by Hamas, or "Hamed" as Al-Arian says on the tape.

Defense attorneys started the day with a motion they hope will lead to a dismissal of the case because of what they said were discrepancies between translations of documents used to apply for search warrants at their clients' homes and offices and translations of the documents later brought into evidence in court.

Judge Moody has not ruled on the motion.

[Last modified July 26, 2005, 04:45:14]

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