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The defendants

Sami Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Ballut and Hatem Fariz were charged with conspiring to raise money for terrorists, money laundering, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud.

By STAFF REPORTS
Published December 7, 2005


SAMI AMIN AL-ARIAN, 47

Al-Arian 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 said were terrorist fronts. The indictment described him as a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group the U.S. government declared a terrorist organization in 1995. But no evidence in the case has connected him directly to violence.

Al-Arian arrived in Tampa by way of Kuwait and Egypt, Illinois and North Carolina.

He was born in Kuwait, the son of Palestinian refugees. His parents had moved there a decade earlier, when the nation of Israel was established.

His family moved to Egypt, where Al-Arian studied engineering. When a cousin living in Illinois suggested he pursue engineering at Southern Illinois University, he applied. He arrived in 1975.

He went to graduate school and earned a master's degree and doctorate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Al-Arian married his wife, Nahla, in 1979. They have five children. In 1985, he came to Tampa, became an assistant computer science and engineering professor at USF in 1986.

Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was arrested on immigration violations, and held in jail for more than four years on secret evidence that federal authorities say linked him to terrorists. He was deported in 2002.

Al-Arian had applied for U.S. citizenship - having no citizenship in any country as a Palestinian refugee - but his application was derailed by controversy and later criminal charges.

Al-Arian also taught Islamic Studies at Islamic Academy of Florida, which he founded.

SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH, 44

Born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace, he was a teaching assistant and doctoral student at the University of South Florida and a director at the Islamic Academy of Florida. He also worked for World & Islam Studies Enterprise. The indictment accused him of being a fundraiser for Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Hammoudeh is the only one besides Al-Arian who has remained in jail since the arrest in February 2003.

Hammoudeh and his wife, Nadia Ibrahim Hammoudeh, 41, received probation in June for federal tax, immigration and mortgage fraud charges. They also agreed to be deported back to the West Bank city of Ramallah if Hammoudeh was acquitted of the terrorism charges.

A former Arabic instructor, Hammoudeh and his wife have six children together.

HATEM NAJI FARIZ, 32

Born in Puerto Rico to Palestinian parents and raised in America, Fariz was president of the Chicago Islamic Center in 2001. He is a U.S. citizen.

In early 2002, he moved to Spring Hill to work as an office manager for a local medical clinic. He was living in Spring Hill when he was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, and charged with raising money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Fariz had been released on $1.1-million bail. Then, last year, Fariz was arrested again on unrelated charges of cheating the federal food stamp program. He's accused of pocketing money meant to buy food through the U.S. Department of Agriculture food stamp program at a neighborhood grocery he owned, called T & T Foods in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He was released on $100,000 bail on those charges.

Fariz and his wife, Manal, have two children.

GHASSAN ZAYED BALLUT, 43

A West Bank native now living in Tampa for the trial, Ballut owned a small business in Tinley Park, Ill. He is accused of being a member of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell in Chicago.

Until his arrest, Ballut was president of the Al-Qassam Mosque in Chicago's South Side, a neighborhood Islamic center founded by him.

Fariz headed the mosque before Ballut.

Ballut flew to Tampa in 1998 under subpoena as a federal grand jury here was considering the activities of Al-Arian's brother-in-law. Ballut sought immunity for his testimony, but prosecutors refused. Ballut didn't end up testifying.

Ballut and his wife, Hanan, have children.

Information from wires and Times archives was used in this report. Research by Jennifer Liberto and Caryn Baird.

[Last modified December 6, 2005, 18:53:11]


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