The following is a blog that appeared on The Counterterrorism Blog on June 8, 2005. For a more detailed summary of the 1st day of the trial, click here: Steven Emerson, with terrorism analysts Brian Hecht and Tally Arahony of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, are covering the Sami Al-Arian trial and prepared the following report for The Counterterrorism Blog:
The widely anticipated trial against former USF professor Sami Al-Arian commenced in the Middle District of Florida Courthouse Monday morning. In the most high profile, post-9/11 terrorism case in the U.S., Al-Arian and three co-defendants are charged in a 53-count indictment (Acrobat file) alleging their involvement in a Tampa-based Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) cell. In an attempt to secure the courthouse and deal with expected throngs of media and public attention, the U.S. Marshal Service cordoned off the perimeter of the building, placing large yellow barriers at every juncture. Heavily armed federal police monitored the entrances, creating a tense pre-trial atmosphere.
Although the defendant received abundant support over the years from diverse groups of individuals and organizations, when push came to shove, support for Sami Al-Arian at the scene appeared to be low. One local television reporter candidly revealed that the contingency of about a dozen pro-Al-Arian protesters were the same group that is present at almost every protest from environmental issues to anti-war rallies here in Tampa. Support from the Muslim community was even more underwhelming, save for a few family members and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) official, Ahmed Bedier.
Before opening statements even began, defense attorneys made an issue of the conspicuous and atypical security measures outside the court, arguing that the barriers would lead the jury to perceive the defendants as being dangerous.
The prosecution initiated its opening statements with a retelling of the January 22, 1995 Beit Lid bombing in Israel by the PIJ. Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter "Terry" Furr told the jury that, pursuant to the bombing, President Clinton designated PIJ, among others, as a terrorist organization. Describing the PIJ as "one of the most deadly terrorist organizations in the world" whose stated aim is the "annihilation of Israel," the prosecution painted the defendants as a "group of intellectual elitists" who managed and financed the U.S. PIJ cell. Furr also told the jury that the 1994 PBS documentary "Jihad in America" (produced by Steven Emerson) was the "triggering event" that started a greater media inquiry into the affairs of Sami al-Arian and his affairs in Tampa.
Furr spent the next several hours detailing a series of immigration violations, perjury, money laundering, and an overall conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization. A bombshell revealed during the opening statement involved a letter written by Al-Arian to a Kuwaiti financier praising the Beit Lid bombing as a symbol of what the PIJ could do for the Palestinian cause, soliciting funds for future attacks. Although Al-Arian admitted in recent years to having written the letter, he has maintained that he never "mailed" it. Furr told the jury that evidence will show that Al-Arian in fact had the letter hand-couriered out of the country.
In contrast to the Government's fact-laden presentation, Al-Arian's defense attorney Bill Moffitt made an emotional appeal to the jury about First Amendment rights and "our nation's great heritage" of supporting and tolerating all speech, no matter how unpopular. However, Moffitt seemed to concede that Al-Arian was in fact a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for a time, citing various wiretap conversations in which Al-Arian discusses "wanting out" if the PIJ would not create a non-violent branch. When later asked about this concession by reporters, Moffitt was coy and evasive.
Day two of the trial began with the opening statements of the remaining three defendants. Strategically, the attorneys went to great lengths to distance their individual clients from both Sami Al-Arian and from the Government's depiction of a tight-knit terrorist cell. In turn, the attorneys for Sammeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Ballut, and Hatem Fariz attempted to characterize their clients as scholarly, family men who were very much involved in religious and legitimate charitable endeavors.
The prosecution opened its case with an exhaustive and often mind-numbing lesson on a multitude of immigration forms and regulations, before delving into the analysis of the defendants' actual immigration forms. The Governments' first witness, U.S. Immigration official Timothy Shavers, answered a series of questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Zitek relating to specific immigration violations apparent in the immigration documents introduced as Government exhibits.
The prosecution appeared to be attempting to show that Sami al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh perjured themselves by not listing their affiliations with the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP), World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), and PIJ on their immigration forms. Likewise, Zitek focused on the fact that Sami al-Arian was the signatory on all the immigration forms and visa sponsorships, as the Chairman of WISE, for Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah and Bashir Nafi.
Of particular note, in the process of Zitek's questioning of Shavers, documents revealed that Bashir Nafi (PIJ founder) and Ramadan Abdullah Shallah (current Secretary General of PIJ) listed the same "foreign address" in London on their immigration forms when petitioning to work for WISE.
The judge and jury appeared frustrated and frankly tired during the Government's direct examination of Shavers. As the jury was leaving for a break during the questioning, Judge Moody quipped, "And you were wondering how this trial could possibly last six months?" At the end of the day, the Judge urged Zitek to figure out a way to speed things up when he resumes his questioning of Shavers or "bring a supply of No-Doz" for everyone.