US indicts eight Arabs for conspiring with Islamic Jihad

Jerusalem Post (Israel), Feb. 20, 2003

WASHINGTON The US Department of Justice Thursday charged a Florida professor, Sami al-Arian, and seven others with supporting, financing, and relaying messages for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the US.

Attorney-General John Ashcroft called a press conference to announce the 50-count indictment.

“As the indictment details, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is responsible for the murder of over 100 innocent people in Israel and the occupied territories, including at least two young Americans, Alisa Flatow, age 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, age 16,” Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft said FBI agents had arrested four defendants living in the United States, including Arian, whom he described as “the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Searches are under way in six locations in the Tampa area and one location in Illinois for the others.

The indictment charges the eight defendants with operating a racketeering enterprise, from 1984 until the present, that supported numerous violent terrorist activities associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ashcroft said. He added that the terrorist activities of the defendants are detailed in part in now-declassified national security wiretaps described in the indictment.

In Florida, Arian was seen being led in handcuffs to FBI headquarters in Tampa after the arrest.

“It’s all about politics,” he told reporters as agents led him inside.

The grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday charges the eight men with operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984 that supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad and with conspiracy to kill and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support to the group, extortion, perjury, and other charges. Each defendant faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Arian and two others were arrested in Tampa and a fourth man was arrested in Chicago. The other four were living abroad and it was not immediately clear if they had been taken into custody.

The group is described in the indictment as rejecting peaceful solutions to the Palestinian quest for a homeland in the Middle East and with embracing “the jihad solution and the martyrdom style as the only choice for liberation.” The group’s purpose, prosecutors allege, is to destroy Israel and end all US and Western influence in the region.

Among the 100 people whose killings are blamed on the organization in Israel and the territories are those of two US citizens: Alisa Flatow, 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, 16. The killings included suicide bombings, car bombings, and drive-by shootings, most recently a June 5, 2002, suicide attack in Haifa that killed 20 and injured 50.

The defendants allegedly provided financial support through a number of US-based entities, resolved internal conflicts, helped communicate claims of responsibility for terrorist actions, and made false statements to immigration officials to help terrorists.

Those arrested in the United States Thursday were described as setting up a terrorist cell at the University of South Florida. They are: Arian, a native of Kuwait, who is the Florida engineering professor the government says ran the Jihad’s US operations; Sameeh Hammoudeh, 42, born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace, Florida, who also is an instructor at the University of South Florida and administrator at the Islamic Academy of Florida; Hatim Naji Fariz, 30, born in Puerto Rico and now living in Spring Hill, Florida, who is a manager at a medical clinic; Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 41, a West Bank native now living in Tinley Park, Illinois, who is the owner of a small business.

Four men who live abroad were also charged: Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, 45, a Gaza Strip native and now resident of Damascus, Syria, who is described as the worldwide leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and is a former instructor at the University of South Florida; Bashir Musa Nafi, 50, originally from Egypt and now living in Oxfordshire, England, called the United Kingdom leader of the group; Muhammad Tasir Hassan al-Khatib, 46, originally from the Gaza Strip and now living in Beirut, described as the treasurer of the organization; Abdel Aziz Awda, 52, born in Israel and now imam of the Al-Qassam Mosque in the Gaza Strip, identified as the founder and “spiritual leader” of the group.

The office of US Attorney Paul Perez in middle Florida had said last year that Arian was under federal investigation.

“This was disconcerting but not surprising,” USF spokesman Michael Reich said of the arrest. He said university President Judy Genshaft will meet with the school’s lawyers Thursday to discuss it.

The tenured computer engineering professor was placed on forced leave and banned from campus shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and his subsequent appearance on Fox News Channel. The school also is trying to dismiss him.

He was quizzed about links to known terrorists, and asked about tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which he said “Death to Israel” in Arabic.

Arian has said that he has never advocated violence against others and that his words were a statement against Israeli occupation. He also has consistently denied any connection to terrorists.

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