Joe Kaufman gives us a detailed and revealing Al-Arian update in FrontPage (thanks to EPG). Here is “Holding Court with the Al-Arians,” a full version of the FP piece:
Tampa Bay is a main cog of the state of Florida. Tourism, amusement parks, fishing, professional sports franchises, it’s got all of the ingredients to make an exceptional American city. But while it has much to be grateful for, all is not roses in Tampa, because for the last two decades the city has been host to a leader of one of the most notorious terror organizations ever to exist, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Sami Al-Arian is a monster. There is no other way to put it. His activities assisted in the murders of innocent men, women, children and babies. And what’s even worse is that he was conducting these activities right from our own shores.
I needed to come to Tampa to see the terrorist for myself. Over the last four years, since 9/11, he was the subject of a large part of my research. On numerous occasions, I had met with law enforcement concerning him and persons associated with him. Unbeknownst to him, he had become an unfortunate part of my life. Al-Arian was on trial, and I needed to be there, if not for any other reason than to allay my own psyche.
Day 1 — Doodles, Debates, and a City Tour
I made my way to the Tampa courthouse — with sincere compliments to Mapquest. I strode up the wheelchair ramp (the steps were blocked off), walked into the courthouse, showed my identification and credentials, went through the metal detector, took the elevator to the 13th floor, signed the “guestbook,” went through a second metal detector, opened the door to the courtroom, and there he was.
He was the first thing I noticed. His shiny bald head was inescapable. His wry smile was unavoidable. Feelings welled up inside of me. It could have easily been my family that was killed. I kept my composure and took a seat in the back row where some reporters were, on the left side of the courtroom. Some young Muslims were seated on the right (side).
The other “alleged” terrorists were in the courtroom, as well. Sameeh Hammoudeh was to the left of Al-Arian, Hatim Naji Fariz was in back of Hammoudeh, and Ghassan Zayed Ballut was in back of Al-Arian. The other remaining defendants are at large, in “peaceful” places such as Damascus, Syria.
It was painful seeing them all dressed up in their fancy suits and ties; not one of them was in an orange jumpsuit wrapped in chains. I made it a point to stare into the eyes of each of the four. Al-Arian flashed me his smile, but then lost it when he figured I was the enemy. Hammoudeh knew right away and gave me a long look that unveiled his true face of evil.
The testimony was boring — fax numbers, phone numbers, addresses, P.O. Boxes. I thought to myself, “How are they going to win this trial, when they”re putting half the jury to sleep?” I resorted to drawing doodles of the back of Al-Arian’s head. I showed it to a couple of reporters and one of the prosecution’s team. They said I did an admirable job.
Sadly, my future career as a courtroom artist fell short, as my sketches of Ghassan Ballut looked even more troubled than he did in real life. As a side note, after viewing his hulking persona, hearing his attempt at speech, and watching him stare endlessly into the sky seemingly unaware of his surroundings, I do believe Ghassan Ballut may very well be the Missing Link.
It was lunchtime — Phew!
Outside were protestors from a local church, evidently one that Al-Arian had been close with, giving speeches there and such. I skipped lunch to chat with the misguided bunch. They had numerous pro-Al-Arian signs. One of the “geniuses” had one that said something to the tune of “GIVING MONEY TO ORPHANS AND WIDOWS IS NOT AN ACT OF TERROR.” I explained to him and a couple of the others that the money was/is being given to orphans and widows to create more orphans and widows, but they could not be swayed by anything so silly as reason. One of the protestors asked me if I was Jewish. When I said “yes,” she proceeded with a litany of anti-Israel b.s. Soon after, another of them asked me the same question and proceeded along the same lines with similar anti-Israel rhetoric, whilst repeatedly shoving a finger in my face. She claimed to be an ex-CIA operative. If that’s true, we”re in trouble! I don’t believe it’s true, by the way, although to calm her down I told her otherwise.
In retrospect, I probably should not have gotten into it with Al-Arian’s buddies. I came to the trial as a reporter, but the activist in me burns too bright. I think I confused the other reporters. I got funny looks, when I cracked jokes about the terrorists. Could I help it if, when Al-Arian stood with his hands clasped behind his back, it looked like he was practicing for the handcuffs?! Reporters are supposed to be even-handed. I sensed the others were asking themselves what the hell kind of reporter I was.
Lunch ended, so I headed back up to the courtroom — hungry, but satisfied nonetheless. Through another reporter I was introduced to a Muslim girl wearing a hijab, claiming to be the friend of Sami Al-Arian’s wife, Nahla. She asked us not to print her name, because her father would be upset that she attended the trial. She said that the local Muslim community is afraid to show their face at the trial, in fear that they will be targeted themselves. She said that the community is afraid to even talk about Al-Arian, because of a possible backlash. As an example, she told us how her “American” acquaintances were taken aback when she showed them a picture of herself with Nahla at an engagement party. She said she couldn’t understand why they would react in this way. After all, she said, Nahla is her “friend.”
I know why she couldn’t understand this. Just as much as our war against terrorism is a war pitting good against evil, we are also engaged in a culture war. Many in the Al-Arian community, I”m sure, cannot comprehend why this trial is even going on in the first place. [I later asked Al-Arian’s daughter about this.] I”m no psychic, but the evidence being presented in the trial is probably more than okay to them. Murdering Israelis, even if others die in the process, is considered to be a righteous act, especially if the murderer dies himself/herself (martyrdom).
The court session continued where it left off, with FBI intelligence analyst Sally Hayes giving testimony. Interruptions were frequent. It seemed like the defendants” lawyers raised objections to every 10th or 20th sentence. “Your Honour, may counsel approach the bench?” reared its ugly head on at least a half dozen occasions. It was comical to watch so many lawyers from both sides get up in unison to speak with Judge Moody.
The session ended, but my day had just begun. I quickly got to the car, and with pages of Mapquest directions in hand, I went off on a solo tour of the city.
My first stop was the children’s school Sami Al-Arian founded, Islamic Academy of Florida (IAF). The school is fairly well hidden, in a cul-de-sac down a back road. A short time ago, it was brought to my attention that the school is adjacent to another school, American Youth Academy, run by the same group. On Florida state incorporation papers, Ayman Barakat is named as a Director of both schools. In addition, both have been set up as elementary/secondary schools. When I arrived there, I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. In July of 2003, when word spread about IAF being used to fund overseas terror, the school was suspended from receiving government funded student tuition vouchers. Later, the vouchers were to be permanently revoked. The American Youth Academy was incorporated soon after that. Coincidence?
Next stop was the former home of the Islamic Concern Project a.k.a. Islamic Committee for Palestine, a “charity” that Al-Arian had set up in 1986. The address turned out to actually be a home, and a fairly large one at that! This location, too, was used to fund the overseas jihad.
Next, I headed for the business center that housed the former office of the World Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). This group, a “think tank” Al-Arian had started in 1991, held events in coordination with the institution Al-Arian was employed at, the University of South Florida (USF). The group, just like the previous two mentioned, was being used to finance overseas terrorism.
Finished with the three organizations that had been named in the Al-Arian indictment, I then headed for the Islamic center Al-Arian helped found in 1987. The center, Islamic Community of Tampa Bay, also goes by the name of Al-Qassam, the same moniker of the fanatical mosque where Sami’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad was said to have been founded.
I accidentally passed by the center. It was easy to pass, because there is no street sign to direct you. As chance would have it, on the right side of the street was the Tampa office of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). It turns out that CAIR-Tampa is just a minute or two from Al-Arian’s mosque. That makes sense, because Ahmed Bedier, the Director of CAIR-Tampa, is also the unofficial spokesman for Al-Arian.
I finally reached my destination. Al-Qassam is at the end of a series of adjoined multiple brick housing units. There is no sign outside. Apart from the traffic that must pass through for prayer, any passerby would never be able to tell the center from one of its also unmarked neighboring units.
After snapping my last photo, I headed back to rest and ready myself for the next day”s proceedings and happenings.
Day 2 — Cleveland Video, Confronting the Kids, and a Terrorist Encounter
The focus of the next day was on a series of videos starring Al-Arian. The witness for the prosecution was FBI translator Tahsin Ali, who had supplied the subtitles for the videos. The day would end with the viewing of a DVD featuring Al-Arian cursing Jews and calling for jihad.
After lunch, I had decided to get up close and personal with Al-Arian’s kids, so I sat in the row preserved for their family and friends. I had befriended an intern with the prosecution, who informed me that security, at times, has told persons sitting in the row to move. I decided to take my chances.
One of Al-Arian’s sons, Abdullah, and daughters, Laila, sat down to the left of me. Abdullah, by the way was the same individual that President Bush nicknamed “Big Dude,” during a trip that Sami Al-Arian and his family had made to the White House in 2000. I politely asked them if they needed me to leave the row. They politely said “No.” I noticed that the girl was having trouble opening up her bottle of water, and her brother was just sitting there not doing anything about it, so I motioned towards the bottle, she handed it to me, and I opened it for her. Soon, another of Al-Arian’s daughters, Leena, joined them and sat between me and Laila. She offered me a Starburst, I”m assuming to repay the favor; I said “No thank-you.” I knew whose children these were, but up until this time, I had no beef with them, so everything was of the utmost in cordiality.
During a 15-minute break, I was left alone with Abdullah and Leena, so I commenced in the questioning. “Do you believe this trial represents something much bigger than just your father?” The son looked at me but wouldn’t open his mouth. However, the daughter was more than willing to talk. She said that all Muslims were being put on trial in America. I asked her if the people in her community believe that the things being said about her father, such as what’s contained in the video we were about to watch, are good and proper. She said that the video presents persons with differences of opinion. Soon the entire courtroom was to see that this was anything but the case.
The DVD was of a 1991 Cleveland fundraiser for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It opened with cleric Fawaz Mohammed “Abu” Damra introducing Al-Arian. Prior to becoming the Imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Damra was the Imam of the Al-Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn, where he set up the flagship office of Al-Qaeda co-founder Abdullah Azzam’s Alkifah Refugee Center.
Damra stated that Al-Arian was the head of the Islamic Committee for Palestine and described the ICP”s relationship to Islamic Jihad. He said, “A brief note about the Islamic Committee for Palestine, it is the active arm of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine. We prefer to call it the “˜Islamic Committee for Palestine” for security reasons.”
Following Damra’s introduction, Al-Arian took the microphone. Right when he started to speak, I looked over at his daughter, Leena, and observed a huge smile taking form from one side of her face to the other. She was proud of her father!
Al-Arian pleaded with his followers to “not befriend Jews or Christians” and proceeded to let out a cascade of violent prose aimed at Jews. He told of the future destruction of the entire state of Israel, repeating the often used Palestinian mantra “from the sea to the river.” He spoke of persons sacrificing themselves in the cause of Allah. He stated, “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.” He showed the side of himself that was hidden for years behind the guise of academia and “interfaith.”
Damra came back to the mike. He called on his congregants to donate funds for jihad activities and for the families of martyrs. “This is the Islamic Jihad movement!” he stated. “Anyone like to donate for the Intifada? A knife to stab the Jews.” The audience responded with thousands of dollars and shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” (G-d is great!)
The crowd broke out in song: “Khyber, Khyber, ya Yahood, jesh Mohammed sofa ya’ud.” (Khyber, Khyber, oh Jews, Mohammed’s Army will return.) This is a reference to the Saudi city of Khyber, where Mohammed’s followers attacked and enslaved its Jewish inhabitants in the year 628. The Cleveland congregation repeated this chant about four or five times. I had viewed so many things like this before, but seeing Sami Al-Arian in the same room with it had me incensed.
Just as they started singing, I turned to Leena to discover her breaking out in laughter. She put her hands over her mouth to hold it in. Her sister next to her — sensing that they were in a courtroom and possibly sensing that I was attentive to what was going on around me — quickly motioned for Al-Arian’s daughter to stop. And she did, on the “˜turn of a dime.”
I observed something similar with Sami. Before the viewing of the video, whilst the prosecution was questioning the witness about materials specifically concerning the subjects of “jihad” and “martyrdom,” I watched Al-Arian grinning gleefully — almost laughing — and the next second abruptly turn serious, as if he was caught up in the moment until he suddenly remembered where he was.
Al-Arian and his family may be located in Tampa, Florida, but they live in a separate world apart from us. Sami Al-Arian is on trial, facing life in prison for being an accomplice to the murders of over 100 innocent human beings, including two Americans. His and his daughter’s bizarre reactions to courtroom testimony would make this reality appear otherwise!
At the conclusion of the video, Judge Moody admonished one of Al-Arian’s lawyers, Linda Moreno. Previous to the viewing, Moreno had voiced her “objection” to any of the videos being shown. She also called for a “mistrial,” due to a statement by prosecution concerning something said on the video by an “unidentified” person of interest. The courtroom, including the jury, got a good laugh from this. But while Judge Moody was obviously amused as well over this unfounded call for mistrial, he mockingly commented to Ms. Moreno, “You said it was an improper statement that could not be supported by any understanding!” Everything prosecution said was supported by that video. With that, the judge adjourned court until the next day.
I left the courtroom trailing behind Al-Arian’s children. Everyone piled into one of the elevators. The three of them lined up on the left side, I was next to them, and the other reporters were on the right. I couldn’t have had a better opportunity. I looked at Laila Al-Arian in the middle and asked, “Do you agree with the things that were said in the video?” She just stared at me — taken by surprise — without an answer. I next asked Al-Arian’s other daughter, Leena, the same question. She gazed blankly at the floor of the elevator with her head down. I then turned to the son, Abdullah, “Do you agree with the things that were said in the video?” He looked at me, and unlike inside the courtroom, he finally spoke. “What do you mean?” he asked. I said it again — louder — changing the question slightly, “Do you agree with the things that the people said in the video?” Still looking at me, he replied with a well traveled Constitutional excuse, “I agree with the fact that the people in the video have Freedom of Speech. This is still America.”
In addition to refusing to answer the question, it is clear that Al-Arian’s eldest son does not comprehend America’s laws. What he and his ilk refer to as “Freedom of Speech” is actually illegal, here in the U.S. You are not allowed to use a forum to raise money for an entity deemed by the United States government to be a terrorist organization, and that is precisely what that event was being held in Cleveland for.
Upon exiting the building, the rain was coming down fairly hard, so I hung out under the courthouse canopy to wait till it calmed down a little. One of the defendants, Hatim Fariz, walked passed me. He was all alone. That felt very strange. I mean, here you have someone that’s being tried for his part in the murder of scores of civilians, and he’s free to walk around alone! It’s the same for our Missing Link, Ghassan Ballut. Only Al-Arian and Sameeh Hammoudeh are in custody. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
Anyhow, Fariz walked passed me, and I felt I had to say something, so I walked over to him, called to him, and he motioned towards me. I asked him the same question I had asked Al-Arian’s kids. Like a politician being quizzed about something controversial, I didn’t think he was going to answer, but I had nothing to lose. “Hatim, do you agree with the things that were said on the video?” He thought about it for a second, rolled his eyes away and back, and like a robot said, “I leave it to my counsel.” He shook his head in the half-affirmative, turned and started walking away.
I watched him and saw him stop in front of the courthouse. He looked to be like he was waiting for his ride, so I started moving fast towards my car to get the camera for a shot of him and the courthouse. When I turned my head, I viewed a white minivan stop in front of him, and he got in. I was walking across the street, when I saw the van come up on me. I figured, if I take another step, they”re gonna run me over. So I stopped in my tracks, and the van stopped as well — I figured, to take a good look at the guy that asked the funny question. The van drove by me real slow, and the driver’s and my eyes met for what seemed to be an eternity. I took down his car info — just in case — and then I moved on.
It was there that my Al-Arian experience had ended — only to resume some time in the very near future. In those two short days, I felt I had gotten a lot accomplished. Most importantly, I had the chance to see the evil incarnate. I look forward to getting the chance to be there when he is handcuffed and led away for the last time.
When Sami Al-Arian is finally found guilty (G-d willing), I know it will mean very little to him and his family and friends. In the eyes of his followers, he will be seen as a martyr. In the eyes of his fellow radicals, he will be seen as a righteous man. However, in the eyes of his victims, there is nothing, because they are no longer around to see. They are dead. Sami Al-Arian may smile and laugh and think that he has done nothing to be punished for, but the truth is that, just like Osama bin Laden, he is a cold-hearted, cold-blooded terrorist, and he should be treated as such.