Joe Kaufman surveys the Al-Arian wreckage at FrontPage:
“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 newly installed Patriot Act. We caught a leader of a terrorist ring based out of Tampa, Florida, and he and at least some of his compatriots were going to be brought to justice. Now, well over two years later, things have dramatically changed.
Yesterday, Al-Arian and his three friends were acquitted. Five months of testimony, five months of evidence, five months of witnesses, all down the drain.
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. Did the jurors actually believe that the money was just being used for charitable purposes? Is it possible that anything related to PIJ can be disassociated with violence? Or did the jurors believe that this was all one big political demonstration from Zionists that just have a different bent on the Israeli-Palestinian situation?
I cannot envision either of the above occurring. Not because it’s out of the realm of imagination, but because I attended the trial. Along with the jurors, I watched the video of the Cleveland fundraiser. Along with them, 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.” Al-Arian was present in the video. Did he disagree? Absolutely not.
Along with the jurors, I watched (in the video) these individuals raise thousands of dollars for martyr 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!” (G-d 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?
Of the 17 counts Al-Arian was being charged with, he was acquitted on eight of them, including “conspiracy to murder and maim people abroad,” arguably the most damaging charge. The remaining nine were considered a mistrial, as the jury was deadlocked on them.
Two of his codefendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, were acquitted of all charges against them. The other, Hatem Naji Fariz, was found innocent of 24 counts and jurors deadlocked on the remaining eight.
Barring the unusual circumstance that the U.S. government chooses to retry Al-Arian for the 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, if not worse. Regardless of what the outcome of the trial was, he was guilty of being a leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
One must consider Al-Arian’s codefendant, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. Shallah was brought to Tampa by Al-Arian 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 easily been Al-Arian that left town for Damascus, instead of Shallah. In that case, it would have been Al-Arian ordering a suicide bombing, such as the one that happened in Netanya on Monday, not Shallah. What then? Would that have satisfied the jury?
This case was a big blow for the war on terrorism. Most people are so bombarded by news reports dealing with Iraq and Iran that they fail to see what’s going on right under their noses, right in their own country. Sami Al-Arian was a huge part of this war. Because someone like him — someone that was so blatantly involved in terrorism — was acquitted, the Justice Department may look twice at bringing future terror cases to trial. And that undoubtedly will embolden the enemy.
On this day, terrorism prevailed.