Weekly Planet: TALE OF THE TAPE (Al Arian's trial)

What does wiretap evidence reveal about Al-Arian?
Published August 10, 2005

The bomb-sniffing German shepherd prowling the streets and parking lots near the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa was on time.. Co-defendant Hatem Fariz was late.. It was the ninth week of the increasingly surreal epic that is the Sami Al-Arian terrorism trial. Hard to believe it has been nine weeks. Sometimes it feels more like nine years.

..jurors have started hearing from the thousands of hours of wiretaps and other communications intercepts that lie at the heart of the conspiracy and terrorism case against the former University of South Florida professor and co-defendants Fariz, Ghassan Balut and Sameeh Hammoudeh....

Using the wiretap evidence, prosecutors are starting to make headway in their conspiracy allegations.. the Al-Arian on the wiretaps sounds quite different from the one who denied involvement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who claimed to detest violence and portrayed himself as an aggrieved free speech advocate for the plight of his Palestinian people.

Take this example: In 2001, Al-Arian wrote an op-ed piece in the Tampa Tribune titled, "Media McCarthyism." He defended his actions and claimed he was against terrorism and violence such as that committed on 9/11. He also defended using violent jingoism in speeches he gave in the late 1980s and early 1990s at Islamic fundraising events.

"As I have explained, the slogan 'death to Israel' was made in a speech given in Arabic 13 years ago about the brutal occupation of the Palestinians by Israel," he wrote. "It simply meant death to occupation, to oppression, to the Israeli apartheid system against the Palestinians. It certainly did not mean death to any human being or Jew."

Contrast that with a fax signed by Al-Arian (using his middle name, "Amin," and introduced into testimony on Thursday). It was sent a few days after he received news from Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders of the Nov. 11, 1994, suicide bicycle bomb attack against Israeli soldiers near Netzarim. Three were killed, more than a dozen injured.

Al-Arian faxed to Damascus, Syria (the headquarters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or PIJ, and its founder, Fathi Shiqaqi) on Nov. 14, 1994: "Pride and glory overwhelmed us. May God bless your efforts and accept our martyrs. Please be cautious and on the alert. Our greetings to all. Amin. 11/11/94"

Over the past two weeks, prosecutors have introduced evidence that put Al-Arian in the middle of Palestinian Islamic Jihad affairs, from authoring proposed financial reforms for the group to trying to broker a merger between the PIJ and fellow terrorists Hamas. Federal District Judge James S. Moody Jr. has ruled that simply being aware of terrorist killings or reacting to them is not against the law, but prosecutors are trying to show that Al-Arian and the co-defendants not only knew of the attacks but continued to work with PIJ and aid its efforts by raising money that went to martyrs' families. The theory has been dubbed "Economic Jihad."

In the 2001 op-ed piece, Al-Arian defended the mission of his World Islamic Studies Enterprise think tank, which was aligned with USF. Prosecutors have introduced faxed and wiretap information that show that at least three WISE employees (including co-defendant Hammoudeh and colleagues Ramadan Shallah and Mazen Al-Najjar) were paid with Palestinian Islamic Jihad funds.

"We believe in civilizational dialogue," Al-Arian wrote in 2001, explaining the mission of WISE.

But the think tank was also used to bring Palestinian Islamic Jihad members to the United States. Like Bashir Nafi. In one wiretapped call, Nafi talks at length to Al-Arian about the need to show at least $50,000 in WISE accounts so that Immigration and Naturalization Service lawyers reviewing his application for a work visa would find his WISE job offer legit. But WISE was broke, having been cut off from PIJ funding for some time, according to the testimony of FBI agent Kerry Myers.

Many of the wiretaps, in fact, dealt with the financial problems for the three WISE employees. They lived by borrowing money while Al-Arian tried to gain more funding from Damascus, growing increasingly angry and frustrated as he tried to juggle finances.

(Not to mention the scheme that Al-Arian discussed on one wiretap to forge the signature of PIJ treasurer - and his brother-in-law - Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib and transfer $350,000 of Palestinian Islamic Jihad money into a Tampa account to fund WISE.)

Mostly, though, Al-Arian complained about how his colleagues and friends were suffering without the PIJ money.

"Ramadan, Ramadan is living by borrowing," Al-Arian said in a wiretapped phone call on July 3, 1994. "I think he may have been spending a little from the Center's money, and from his father-in-law. At the end, we are not going to just keep silent about it."

This from an Al-Arian who had publicly said he wasn't aware of Ramadan Shallah's deep ties to Shiqaqi and Palestinian Islamic Jihad after Shallah succeeded the assassinated PIJ leader in 1995.

It was in that year that President Bill Clinton outlawed support for the PIJ after a particularly heinous double suicide attack at Bet Leid that derailed the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed credit for the attack that killed 18 soldiers and one civilian.

In one February 1995 wiretap, Al-Arian scoffed at Clinton's response to the attack, an executive order that banned Americans from providing support to terrorist organizations or individuals, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. When a friend asked him if the order affected him, Al-Arian said, "No, no, it is all, I am telling you, just a propaganda, that is to say. He chose organizations in the Middle East, the big organizations, and the prominent people. " My brother, it is a war, a war waged by the Zionists. They are controlling the White House and the State Department, they are in control in the era of the Democrats. They are in control in a way they have never been before. ""

"So whatever they want, they do," he told his friend. "You will laugh, by God, if you read the Executive Order, you will completely laugh at the situation. How would a president of the most powerful country in the world sign such a stupid thing like this?"

This conversation could be viewed simply as a criticism of ineffectual U.S. Middle East policy. But it also could be read as the contemptuous reaction of an unrelenting supporter of terrorism. The latter, obviously, is what prosecutors want jurors to think.

Weekly Planet


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