Ex-Tampa resident's name surfaces in bombing trial
By SUSAN ASCHOFF
© St. Petersburg Times,
A man who worked for a political organization in Tampa nine years ago has surfaced in the trial of four men convicted Tuesday of conspiring with international terrorist Osama bin Laden to bomb two U.S. embassies in Africa.
Tarik Hamdi, 39, a freelance journalist living in Herndon, Va., is referenced in court transcripts from the Manhattan trial. Hamdi arranged an ABC News interview with bin Laden in 1998, the transcripts say, and transported a satellite phone battery later given to one of bin Laden's associates.
Hamdi lived in Tampa and worked as office manager from 1989-1992 for the Islamic Committee for Palestine, or ICP, a Palestinian advocacy group founded by University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian.
Al-Arian, ICP and WISE, a USF-affiliated think tank also founded by Al-Arian, have been the subjects of a six-year federal investigation for alleged ties to Middle East terrorists. Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was detained more than three years without charges on secret government evidence linking him and the Tampa organizations to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Najjar was released in December after a judge ruled his constitutional rights had been violated.
None of the men has been charged.
Hamdi, a U.S. citizen, is referenced perhaps a half-dozen times in the voluminous transcripts from the Manhattan trial. The U.S. Attorney's Office alleges that purchasing records show a satellite phone battery was shipped to Hamdi in Herndon, Va., and later delivered by him for a satellite phone used by bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaeda, the documents assert. The phone was used to plan terrorist acts, it says.
Hamdi told the St. Petersburg Times on Saturday that he took the phone battery at the last-minute request of a business associate. He was traveling to London, Pakistan and Afghanistan because ABC News was paying him to help arrange an interview with bin Laden. The interview took place in May 1998 in Afghanistan, according to court transcripts.
Hamdi, reared in Turkey and Iraq, says he is no friend to terrorists. In January 2000 he met with federal agents, he said, who asked him about bin Laden. The agents gave him security clearance to take a job on the defense team of one of the accused conspirators, Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-'Owhali, as an expert on Islamic movements, Hamdi said.
He has a master's degree from Hartford Seminary, he said, and his work reporting for European and Middle East publications gives him many contacts.
"Everything I did the government knows about," Hamdi said.
The FBI could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Hamdi and Al-Arian met at a Muslim Arab Youth Association conference in the mid 1980s. Hamdi worked at ICP while his wife studied at USF, Hamdi said.
Al-Arian and Al-Najjar support the Palestinian cause, but deny any terrorist activity. ICP and WISE were started during the first intifada, or uprising, of Palestinians against the Israeli occupation. A federal investigation of their activities in Tampa ignited when a former WISE administrator, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, became leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in October 1995, a few months after leaving Tampa.
On Tuesday in federal district court in Manhattan, four men, including al-'Owhali, were convicted of conspiring with bin Laden in the bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998. The almost simultaneous attacks killed 224 and injured thousands.
Prosecutors are seeking to bring bin Laden, thought to be in Afghanistan, and a dozen others to trial.
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