The trial of suspected terrorist supporter Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants began in a federal court in Tampa, Florida, on June 6, 2005.
Al-Arian, 47, a former University of South Florida professor and local community leader, is accused of raising money and organizing activities in the U.S. to support the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Al-Arian "directed the audit of all moneys and property of the PIJ throughout the world and was the leader of the PIJ in the United States," according to the indictment.
Al-Arian and his three co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh, 44, Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 43, and Hatem Naji Fariz, 32, face a combined 53 counts, including racketeering, conspiracy to murder, maim, or injure persons outside the U.S. and providing material support to a terrorist organization. All four have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The indictment alleges that the men utilized a think tank founded by Al-Arian called World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), as well as a related charity and an Islamic school, as a cover for their activities in support of the PIJ, which is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S.
The case against Al-Arian and his alleged accomplices is based on an investigation dating back to 1991. Evidence introduced by the prosecution includes recorded telephone conversations, faxes and other documents, including videotapes of events organized by Al-Arian's organization.
Among the communications described in the indictment are several exchanges between Al-Arian and PIJ secretary general at the time, Fathi Shikaki, regarding financial situation of the organization and funds for its members overseas. In one particular fax described in the indictment, Shikaki informed Al-Arian of the cost of a recent suicide bombing.
The prosecution intends to show that the defendants' activities are connected to PIJ terrorist actions, including several attacks committed between 1989 and 2002 in which more than one hundred were murdered. In one instance, Al-Arian personally wired money to families of a PIJ terrorists convicted in Israel for killing three Israelis, according to the indictment.
Four other co-defendants, who live abroad and have not been arrested, are named in the indictment: Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, 45, PIJ secretary general, who resides in Damascus, Syria; Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, who resides in England; Mohammed Tasir Hassan al-Khatib, 46, who resides in Beirut, Lebanon; and Abd Al Aziz Awda, 52, who resides in the Gaza Strip. Another alleged co-conspirator, Mazen al-Najjar, was deported in 2002.
Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who formerly directed Al-Arian's think tank, moved to Damascus in 1995, where he assumed leadership for the PIJ. Al-Arian, who helped Shallah obtain a working visa, maintains that he had not been aware of Shallah's affiliation with the PIJ. According to evidence included in the indictment, however, al-Arian and Shallah had several exchanges regarding PIJ business.
The trial is expected to last six months.