December 7, 2005
“Today, the United States Department of Justice is announcing the indictment of Sami al-Arian and seven co-conspirators.” That’s how United States Attorney General John Ascroft began his press conference, back in February of 2003. It was a momentous day in the war on terrorism, a triumph of the Patriot Act. We caught a leader of a terrorist ring based in Tampa, Florida, and he and at least some of his compatriots were going to be brought to justice. Now, it appears justice may not have been served.
Yesterday, al-Arian and his three friends were acquitted after five months of hearing testimony that seemed to point to the contrary. Of the 17 counts al-Arian was charged with, he was acquitted on eight of them, including “conspiracy to murder and maim people abroad,” the most serious charge. The remaining nine were considered a mistrial, as the jury was deadlocked on them. Two of his co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, were acquitted of all charges against them. The other, Hatem Naji Fariz, was found not guilty of 24 counts, and jurors deadlocked on the remaining eight.
Until we hear from the jurors, it’s hard to say how this could possibly have happened. The judge in the trial, James S. Moody, had stipulated to the jury that the prosecution needed to prove that the money allegedly going from Tampa to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was sent for the purpose of violence. Is it possible that anything related to PIJ can be disassociated with violence? It is a terrorist organization. Did the defense convince the jurors that this was all one big political demonstration against the “Zionists” based on the Israeli-Palestinian situation?
I cannot envision either of the above occurring, because I attended the trial. Along with the jurors, I watched the video of the 1991 Cleveland fundraiser, in which al-Arian begged his audience to create a Palestine “from the river to the sea,” concluding:
Thus is the way of jihad. Thus is the way of martyrdom. Thus is the way of blood, because this is the path to heaven.
Along with the jurors, I watched Fawaz Mohammed “Abu” Damra – the individual that founded al-Qaeda’s main American headquarters in Brooklyn – call al-Arian’s Islamic Committee for Palestine the “active arm of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine.” Sami al-Arian was present in the video. Did he disagree? Absolutely not.
Along with the jurors, I watched these individuals in the video raise thousands of dollars for “martyrdom” operations, apart from raising thousands for “orphans.” “Anyone like to donate for the Intifada? A knife to stab the Jews,” Damra stated, to which the crowd loudly responded “Allahu Akbar!” (“Allah is great!”) The intentions of these people could not be any clearer. Granted, there were times when half the jury looked asleep, but while this video was showing, their eyes were wide open. How could they discount this startling evidence?
Barring the unusual possibility that the U.S. government will choose to retry al-Arian for those charges declared a mistrial, he will be deported, as his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was in August of 2002 and as his friend Fawaz Damra soon will be.
But is deportation for this man justice? If that were the case, Sami al-Arian would have been deported long ago. No, al-Arian should remain behind bars. Regardless of what the outcome of the trial was, he was guilty of being a leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist entity he co-founded.
One must consider al-Arian’s co-defendant, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. Sami al-Arian brought Shallah to Tampa to work for the University of South Florida (USF). One day, Shallah disappeared from Florida only to reappear as the Secretary General of PIJ in Damascus, Syria. Sources say it could have as easily been al-Arian who left town to head PIJ, rather than Shallah. In that case, it would have been al-Arian ordering a suicide bombing, such as the one that happened in Netanya on Monday. What then? Would that have satisfied the jury?
This case was a big blow for the war on terrorism. Although most Americans are attuned to what's happening in Iraq, they may have missed what's going on right in their own country. Sami al-Arian was a major player on the wrong side of this war. Because someone like him – someone who was so blatantly involved in terrorism – was acquitted, the Justice Department may think twice before bringing future terror cases to trial. And that undoubtedly will embolden the enemy.
On this day, terrorism prevailed.
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Joe Kaufman is the Chairman of Americans Against Hate and the host of The Politics of Terrorism radio show.