TAMPA – A federal public defender, who represents a co-defendant of former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, asked a judge on Friday to throw out charges of extortion.
Extortion was included in a 53-count federal indictment against Al-Arian and eight other men. Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut are scheduled to go to trial in April. The five other men live abroad and have not been arrested. All are accused of leadership roles in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for dozens of attacks and more than 100 deaths in Israel.
On Friday, public defender Wadie Said, who represents Fariz, asked U.S. District Judge James S. Moody to throw out extortion charges against his client, Fariz. If the judge agrees, the charges would likely be dropped from the other defendants as well. Several more charges would remain, including charges that they supported terrorism, racketeering and money laundering.
Said told Moody that the U.S. government cannot prove the defendants threatened a landowner with violence in an attempt to get the landowner’s property. As Palestinians, Said said, members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have rights to land in Israel. The United Nations has backed these claims.
Rhetorically, Said asked how members of the Jihad can extort land that was once their homeland? Especially, he said, when they were forcibly removed from that land.
“It is my understanding, your honor, that extortion cannot lie where someone has a right to the property,“ Said said.