Sami Al-Arian Indicted in Virginia
Posted: August 20, 2008
Sami Al-Arian was first indicted in February 2003 in Tampa, Florida, along with three co-defendants. Charges against him included racketeering, conspiracy to murder, maim, or injure persons outside the U.S. and providing material support to a terrorist organization. The government tried to prove that al-Arian "directed the audit of all moneys and property of the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] throughout the world and was the leader of the PIJ in the United States."
In December 2005, after a six-month trial, al-Arian was acquitted on eight of the 17 charges and the jury deadlocked on the others. When prosecutors pursued a retrial, al-Arian struck a plea bargain, pleading guilty to one charge of conspiring to "make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of" the PIJ. He also admitted knowing "that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence."
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. Fariz later signed a plea agreement admitting to one count of aiding the PIJ. He was convicted in a separate case in Chicago, Illinois for a food-stamp fraud, and received a combined sentence of 51 months.
The case against al-Arian and co-defendants was based on evidence collected over a period of 14 years, much of it from before January 1995, when the U.S. government first designated the PIJ a terrorist entity in a presidential executive order, which prohibited "making or receiving of any contribution of funds, goods, or services to or for the benefit" of the PIJ.
The prosecution introduced evidence during the trial 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 organization's finances. The prosecution also presented evidence of actual money transfers from PIJ leaders in the Middle East to the defendants.
According to a March 2002 affidavit by the U.S. Customs Service, documents found in al-Arian's possession during a 1995 search include an early draft of the PIJ Constitution along with its final official version, which rejects any peace with Israel and declares "the Jihad solution and the martyrdom style as the only choices for liberation." A separate memorandum outlined a suggestion to establish a "hostile intelligence organization in the United States."
The prosecution also demonstrated al-Arian's ideological support of PIJ, including a letter addressed to a legislator in Kuwait in which al-Arian praised a suicide bombing in Israel. In that letter, al-Arian wrote: "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 apparently written several days after the presidential executive order 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 and later told reporters that the government had failed to prove its case.