Trial of Sami Al-Arian Concludes with Acquittals, Deadlocks
Posted: December 13, 2005
In a major terrorism case, the government failed to convince a federal jury in Florida that Sami al-Arian, former University of South Florida professor and a U.S. resident, acted to send funds to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror organization for the purpose of committing terrorist acts.
Following two weeks of deliberations by the jury, al-Arian was acquitted on December 6, 2005, of 8 of the 17 charges listed against him in the indictment, including conspiracy to murder or maim people abroad. The jury deadlocked on the remaining charges.
Following the trial's conclusion, the Department of Justice stated that "While we respect the jury's verdict, we stand by the evidence we presented in court against Sami al-Arian and his co-defendants. Discussions are ongoing as to whether the government will seek to retry defendants al-Arian and Hatem Fariz on the outstanding charges." The government may also try to deport al-Arian, who is not a U.S. citizen. He is currently held in detention by U.S. immigration authorities.
Three co-defendants stood trial with al-Arian; two, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, were acquitted of all charges. A third, Hatem Naji Fariz, was acquitted of most charges, with the jury deadlocking on the remainder. As with al-Arian, the government is considering re-filing "unresolved charges" against Fariz.
The case against al-Arian and co-defendants was based on evidence collected over a period of 14 years, much of it from before 1995. Some of the evidence became admissible in criminal court only after the Patriot Act legislation in 2001. Indeed, former Attorney General John Ashcroft cited al-Arian's indictment as one of the act's major successes. Al-Arian's case thus became linked to the Patriot Act.
The prosecution introduced evidence showing that al-Arian had close relations with PIJ leaders, including exchanges between al-Arian and PIJ secretary general at the time, Fathi Shikaki, regarding the organizationís finances. The prosecution also presented evidence of actual money transfers from PIJ leaders in the Middle East to the defendants. Much of this evidence, however, pertained to the period prior to January 1995, which is when President Clinton designated the PIJ a terrorist organization and funding it became illegal.
The prosecution also introduced information that demonstrated al-Arian's ideological support of PIJ, including a letter addressed to a legislator in Kuwait in which al-Arian praised a recent suicide bombing in Israel, writing that "the latest operation, carried out by the two mujahideen who were martyred for the sake of God, is the best guide and witness to what the believing few can do in the face of Arab and Islamic collapse at the heels of the Zionist enemy and in keeping the flame of faith, steadfastness and defiance glowing."
The letter also included an appeal to "support to the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue." However, the prosecution was unable to prove that the letter, which was found in al-Arian's possession and was written several days after President Clinton declared PIJ a terror organization, was ever sent.
Al-Arian's defense attorneys argued in response that al-Arian's conduct consisted merely of protected speech, and that the money he sent to PIJ was for its charitable work. The jury agreed, with jurors later telling reporters that the government had failed to prove its case.