Sami Omar Al-Hussayen
Are those who give money to terrorist organizations as guilty as those who plant the bombs? If they know where the money is going, why not? From the Idaho Statesman, :
The case the federal government will try to make against former University of Idaho grad student Sami Al-Hussayen is this: People who give money to terrorist organizations are as guilty as the radicals who plant the bombs.
Al-HussayenÂ´s jury trial on three counts of conspiracy to support terrorism and 11 visa fraud charges begins today in U.S. District Court in Boise. Al-Hussayen is accused of using his status as a graduate student in computer science as a cover for funneling $300,000 and technical expertise to maintain Web sites for radical anti-American organizations.
“The question is: Did Sami know the money he is accused of helping shift through the Web site was going to terrorist activities?” said Dr. Rand Lewis, a former U.S. Army counterterrorism expert who now heads the University of IdahoÂ´s Martin Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. “Or did he think (the money) was to be used in support of Arab groups for humanitarian reasons?”
“I think what (prosecutors) are saying is that the real danger is not just the terrorists themselves, but the sympathizers,” said Beau Grosscup, a political science professor who specializes in terrorism and Middle East politics at Chico State University in California. “This is very much in line with post 9/11 thinking.”
The Al-Hussayen trial comes at a time of heightened interest in terrorism against the United States and its ripple effects throughout the world. A federal commission is looking into the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence on terrorism before Sept. 11. Citizens and lawmakers debate the appropriateness of expanded investigatory powers under the U.S. Patriot Act.
ItÂ´s the fallout of 9/11 and the current political climate that may make it harder for Al-Hussayen, said Sherry Matteucci, a former U.S. attorney in Montana.
“People are more aware of the international connection with terrorism since 9/11. It will be easier (for prosecutors) in the sense people have context and general awareness of terrorism they might not have had prior to that,” Matteucci said.
David Nevin, the Boise attorney representing Al-Hussayen, has consistently disputed the governmentÂ´s claims, describing Al-Hussayen as a peaceful graduate student and community leader who condemned the violence of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Lewis said the government must explain Al-HussayenÂ´s role in the confusing hierarchy of terrorist networks. Terrorist organizations can look like a pyramid, he said:
“¢ On the top are leaders like Osama Bin Laden, who provide vision and planning for organization.
“¢ The second level includes the “active cadre” — terrorists who actually carry out bombings or shootings.
“¢ The third level is made up of active supporters, people who raise and funnel money or create safe houses for terrorist efforts.
“¢ At the bottom level are passive supporters, people who wouldnÂ´t even know they were supporting terrorist activities. An example: someone who contributes to a famine relief fund for Palestinian camps without knowing that some of the money could go to terrorist organizations.
“Somewhere in the bottom of the triangle is where Sami is. If he is in the passive base, that makes it a difficult case for authorities,” Lewis said. “Even if he is in the active level, itÂ´s still going to be hard to prove how important he was.”
Both Lewis and Grosscup said the post-9/11 political climate seems to favor federal prosecutors in the case.
“I think Sami is kind of a fall guy,” said Lewis. “I think they are hanging their hat on Sami.”
“It seems to be more of a political than legal issue … like the federal government is doing something to soothe fears (of the public),” Grosscup said.
Matteucci said while the current political climate helps federal prosecutors, itÂ´s still a difficult case to make.
“There is visceral reaction to a violent crime that is not present in cases like this,” she said. “ItÂ´s way more difficult to prove intent when you have a complex document and computer case about financial evidence. It doesnÂ´t speak the same as a stab in the heart.”