8/21/2005

St. Petersburg Times: Witnesses detail Israel bombings at Al-Arian trial

During Sami Al-Arian's trial Monday, witnesses from Israel testified about rolling heads and the smell of burning flesh in the wake of a 1995 double suicide bombing.

Defense attorneys repeatedly objected, arguing that the testimony contained inflammatory language and prejudicial evidence and was not linked directly to Al-Arian or his three co-defendants.

Nevertheless, U.S. District Judge James S. Moody allowed the testimony about the bombing at Beit Lid, Israel, to continue throughout the day.

The judge's reason: He agreed with prosecutors that their circumstantial case requires them to show that Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which claimed responsibility for the Beit Lid bombing, used violence to raise money. Prosecutors hope this evidence will help them connect the defendants' fundraising in the United States to PIJ violence.

Testifying first was an Israeli police intelligence officer who was at the Beit Lid road junction when the bombing occurred on Jan. 22, 1995, killing 19 Israeli soldiers, a civilian and the two bombers.

He told of the huge explosion and the odd silence afterward, as a soldier's head rolled toward him. He described seeing the bodies of dead soldiers.

The wife of the only civilian who died said she recognized her husband's shoes and jeans on television newscasts right after the bombing. She said her husband, who drove a sanitation truck, had stopped to help the injured from the first bomb when the second bomb went off.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing. Several days later, the United States declared the PIJ to be a terrorist group.

Eight years later, the four defendants in the Tampa courtroom were charged with helping to raise money in the United States for the PIJ. The judge has said prosecutors must show that defendants enabled acts of PIJ violence through their activities.

Monday afternoon, the judge said he had permanently excused a juror at her request because being on the jury was causing her "financial hardship."

After an alternate replaced her, an Israeli bomb technician testified about finding bomb parts in a clothing shop in 1996: nine- volt batteries, wiring, parts of antitank mines, light switches, chemicals and nail pieces - and the IDs of the two men whom the PIJ had identified as the Beit Lid suicide bombers.

A week after the Beit Lid bombing, PIJ leader Faithi Shikaki said in a magazine interview from Damascus, Syria, that the work of the two bombers was "the most important operation" of the PIJ.

FBI wiretaps indicate that Al-Arian had been in regular contact with Shikaki in Syria in 1994 and was part of the PIJ board of directors. But prosecutors have not yet shown that Al-Arian or the other defendants enabled any PIJ acts of violence.


Archives: St. Petersburg Times

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