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Al-Arian's judge refuses to declare a mistrial

But problems in the case remain, with a claim that the jury was tainted by one juror's improper statements.

By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published September 1, 2005

TAMPA - No mistrial. That's what the federal judge in the trial of Sami Al-Arian and three other defendants said Wednesday in response to complaints from defense attorneys about a "tainted" jury.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. did say, however, that the juror problem was not over yet, and he would study the transcript of what jurors had said and take suggestions from attorneys about how to further question them.

A potential problem with the jury began developing Monday, when two jurors told the court that another juror had said that two Islamic organizations in the Tampa area - a K-12 school called Islamic Academy of Florida and an Islamic think tank called World and Islam Studies Enterprise - were fronts for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group that has claimed responsibility for more than 100 deaths in Israel and the occupied territories.

The juror's comments, if he actually made them, suggest that he has decided that several of the defendants are guilty of running fronts, and said as much, which he is not supposed to do until the jury deliberates.

Al-Arian and the three co-defendants are charged with using money from the school - IAF - and the think tank - WISE - as well as other organizations, to raise money for the violent acts of the PIJ.

Moody expressed concern over exactly how to further question jurors about the juror's alleged comments: "We're in a balancing situation here. The more you emphasize, the worse it can get," Moody told attorneys.

Questions about the connection of Tampa Islamic organizations to the PIJ continued throughout the morning, as prosecutors showed outtakes of a TV interview from a PBS documentary. The program alleged that certain Islamic groups in the U.S., including several in Tampa, were connected to PIJ terrorism.

In the 10-minute video of outtakes shown in court, interviewer Steve Emerson, who investigated Al-Arian for years, asks Al-Arian what the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which Al-Arian founded, did. Al-Arian called it "more of an effort than a membership - a phone in an office and a post office box."

Moreover, "the objectives of ICP are to inform people of the tragedy of the Palestinian people ... through a magazine and conferences to let people speak their minds," he said.

Prosecutors say the ICP, along with WISE and IAF, was a fundraising vehicle for PIJ violence, and that the outtakes show Al-Arian was trying to cover up the fundraising conspiracy by lying. Defense attorneys say evidence does not link the Tampa organizations to violence, that they were doing what Al-Arian says - educating about Islam, the Middle East and Palestine.

Emerson also asked Al-Arian if he was affiliated with the PIJ in or before 1994.

"Never an affiliation," responded Al-Arian.

But less than a week before the August 1994 interview, according to FBI wiretaps, Al-Arian had faxed PIJ leaders a proposal for combining some of their nonviolent activities in the occupied territories with those of Hamas. The fax suggests Al-Arian was an important part of PIJ decisionmaking. Prosecutors say Al-Arian lied to Emerson to cover up his part in a conspiracy.

After Al-Arian denied affiliation, Emerson told Al-Arian that PIJ leader Aziz Awda had been to his Tampa mosque.

"Was he?" asked Al-Arian.

And yet, FBI wiretap evidence shows that eight months before Emerson interviewed him, Al-Arian spoke with Awda about sending payments to Gaza to the survivors of PIJ "martyrs."

Next, prosecutors put the 1999 business manager of the IAF, the K-12 school founded by Al-Arian, on the witness stand. John O'Keeffe said he "tried to sort out" the school's very sloppy record keeping, but finally gave up 14 months later. He left the school in 2000, he said, because he was concerned that some employees were paid in cash and records were not kept, which created a problem at tax time.

But he said the school was very active - not a front as prosecutors have suggested - with 180 students in 10 buildings on 14 acres.

"But it was a gigantic black hole sucking up every dollar around," O'Keeffe said.

At the end of the day Wednesday, an FBI agent reviewed deposits made between 1990 and 1995 in the bank accounts of Al-Arian and several employees at WISE, ICP and IAF, including his brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar, Sameeh Hammoudeh, also on trial, and Ramadan Shallah, who worked with them and now is the head of the PIJ.

During that time, according to the bank records provided by prosecutors, the four men, as well as WISE, IAF and ICP, received almost $2-million in their bank accounts from accounts in Switzerland, Jordan, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Most of the money went into accounts Sami Al-Arian shared with others.

Prosecutors allege that the money funded fronts - ICP, WISE and IAF - that, in turn, raised money for the PIJ. And, if it is true what two jurors said when questioned on Monday, at least one juror has already said he agrees with prosecutors.

Staff writer Meg Laughlin can be reached at 813 226-3365 or mlaughlin@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 1, 2005, 01:13:18]


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