The following is a detailed summary of the opening arguments by attorneys for the US Department of Justice and the defense attorney in Al Arian case on June 6, 2005, the first day of the trial. It was written by Investigative Project analysts Brian Hecht and Tally Aharony who were in the courtroom and who have studied the case for years.
Day One. June 6, 2005 Tampa. Al Arian trial Opening Statements:
Walter "Terry" Furr gave the Government's opening statement. He began with a retelling of the Beit Lid bombing on January 22, 1995. Then he said two days later, President Clinton designated, among others, Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a terrorist group. The government described Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the following terms: "one of the most deadly terrorist organizations in the world," whose stated aim is the "annihilation of Israel" and they want to "impose and Islamic state similar to that of Iran," and Iran was a "major financial benefactor" of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The prosecution described the defendants as a "group of intellectual elitists" who managed the U.S. Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell.
The prosecution tried to emphasize how important claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks. He said unlike other crimes, terrorists taking credit for their violent attacks are key to their agenda. Palestinian Islamic Jihad has two stated goals: 1) to rid "Palestine" of Israelis and 2) to never allow peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Furr discussed the terror financing aspect of the indictment. Alleged that they needed to fund a pension program for families of suicide bombers and detainees and to pay the salaries of the U.S. Palestinian Islamic Jihad guys, and gave an example that Sameeh Hammoudeh was paid a salary of $1000/month for "years." The prosecution said the Cell had other expenses such as paying for front companies, expenses, employee salaries and setting up conferences and fundraising events. Furr references the designation of Fathi Shikaki and Abdel Aziz Al-Awda subsequent to the designation of Palestinian Islamic Jihad itself, and noted that the U.S. Palestinian Islamic Jihad Cell received a fax intercept two days after the designation of Fathi Shikaki and Abdel Aziz Al-Awda.
Furr then discussed the Ismail al-Shatti letter, reading much of it to the jury, in which Sami al-Arian praises, the Beit Lid bombing and asks for funds. The significant portion of this reading was that the government revealed it was going to show evidence during the course of the trial that although Sami al-Arian had previously stated that he "never mailed the letter," there was evidence that he had the letter hand couriered outside the country. This is a new development.
Furr then detailed the four defendants and their roles in the various Palestinian Islamic Jihad front groups as well as their roles within Palestinian Islamic Jihad itself. He eventually spoke about all 9 of the indicted co-conspirators, as well as Fawaz Damra. He stated several times that Sameeh Hammoudeh, Mazen al-Najjar, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah and Bashir Nafi were "aliens" and not allowed to work in the United States.
Furr tried to make the point that although the defendants were not involved in any acts of physical violence themselves, that they funded and ran the organization. He explained that there were extensive wiretaps, both telephone and facsimile, spanning from 1994 to early 2003. There were search warrants issued in 1995 and 2003 that lead to raids in which voluminous material was seized.
He said the Tampa Palestinian Islamic Jihad Cell had access to over 20 bank accounts used to launder money. Within these accounts, there was international money coming in to fund the front groups as well as domestic money raised. The domestic money generated purportedly going to be sent to orphans, women and children were used to pay the salaries of the U.S. Palestinian Islamic Jihad Cell.
Furr discussed the wall between the investigative side of the FBI and the Foreign Counterterrorism Intelligence (FCI) side. He said that although FCI had been monitoring al-Arian for years, they could not and did not share any information with the investigative side of the FBI.
Then Furr discussed the covers of the defendants, saying they effectively lead "double lives." Although the wiretaps only began in 1994, they should help inform the history of these individuals and their past involvement with the group. There is evidence going back to the late 80s, and the defendants have a long history of involvement with Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Furr said that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is not representative of the Palestinian people, although they purported themselves to be, and that more often than not, the Palestinian Authority (which Furr said was the elected representative of the Palestinian people) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were at odds. The Palestinian Authority often arrested Palestinian Islamic Jihad members after terrorist attacks.
Furr said the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Cell had 4 main areas of focus. The first was management of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, the second was to issue claims of responsibility for Palestinian Islamic Jihad attacks and disseminate Palestinian Islamic Jihad's "extortionate message" (i.e. Palestine from the River to the Sea or we keep blowing up Jews), third was "economic jihad" (a term used frequently by Furr to reference terror financing/raising money), and fourthly being a communications hub for Palestinian Islamic Jihad members. Furr elaborated on this fourth area, describing "three way" phone calls made between the U.S., Palestinian territories and "hostile areas such as Damascus." They also facilitated "three way" faxes and "three way" money transfers.
Furr described Ziad Nakhala as the number two main in Palestinian Islamic Jihad out of Damascus.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad operated in the U.S. under the guise of orgs created by Sami al-Arian including ICP (Islamic Concern Project, a/k/a/ Islamic Committee for Palestine), WISE, and then also used subsidiaries Islamic Fund for Palestine, Muslim Women's Society, while purportedly being charities for families of martyrs and detainees, Furr described as being only brochures and bank accounts. Furr stated that during the time alleged in the indictment, MWS raised $175,000 and that "maybe 3% of the funds were actually sent to charities."
Furr went into detail describing the activities of ICP/WISE including their creation and dissemination of publications, sponsorship of conferences, etc…as alleged in the indictment. The same was done for American Muslim Care Network and Elehssan Association (Society) as detailed in the indictment.
$1.8 million was sent from abroad to the U.S., laundered, concealed and sifted into accounts. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraisers misrepresented themselves to their audiences, telling them that the contributions would be tax deductible, though they were not.
Furr referenced an individual who would testify later in the trial who Sami al-Arian tried to recruit to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, but was unsuccessful.
Furr talked about the publication al-Mujahid, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad publication prominently featuring the Palestinian Islamic Jihad logo on the front, Palestinian Islamic Jihad communiqués, and interviews with Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders. The 1995 search turned up a shredded piece of paper, which will be exhibit 447, that investigators pieced back together like a puzzle. It had an ICP brochure on one side and al-Mujahid on the other. On the al-Mujahid side, there was a photo of the 1989 Second Annual ICP conference, including Sami al-Arian's statement at the conference.
Furr described this 1989 conference, making two interesting points (he indicated he would show this footage at the trial). Nafi was asked by an audience member how they could get guns and weapons into Israel, and he said he would answer off camera outside. Also, Damra is quoted later at the same event saying "we are terrorists."
Furr went into detail, describing the April 7, 1991 ICP event, quoting both Sami al-Arian and Damra. He mentioned the Damra quote re: ICP being Palestinian Islamic Jihad but they call it ICP for "security reasons." And he also said that they raised $6,785 at that event.
Furr referenced the Nidal Zaloum stabbing and the Bus 405 incident multiple times, throughout his opening statement. He also talked mentioned, as noted above, the Curry High ICP conference, which Furr, at this point in the statement, referred to as "like an all star team for Palestinian Islamic Jihad." Attendees included, Sami al-Arian, Abdel Aziz Al-Awda, Fawaz Damra, Ghassan Ballut and Suleiman Odeh. There were Palestinian Islamic Jihad posters and slogans, including "Victory or Martyrdom," all over the place. There was a poster, later found in Sami al-Arian's house, of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad martyr with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad insignia and the phrase "compassion upon his blood."
The Judge called a recess for lunch, and Furr said he had 45 minutes to an hour left of his opening, which he would finish after the break.
BREAK FOR LUNCH
At lunch, in front of the Courthouse, Al Arian supporters people held a meagerly attended protest, decrying the "evil Patriot Act" and held up a banner, which stated, "Everyone Deserves a Fair Trial."
Court Resumed at 1:35 p.m.
Before Furr resumed his statement, the Fariz's lawyer (M. Allison Guagliardo) raised another objection about the presence of uniformed federal police outside, which was denied, and also said that a juror may have overheard a conversation about extra Courthouse security on the elevator. The judge brought in the juror and asked him if he heard anything on the elevator. He said no, and then the judge brought in the rest of the jury and allowed Furr to continue his remarks.
Furr said that Bulbol lived in Chicago for a year, with Ballut and Fariz, and that he went on to work with the Elhassan Society. Two weeks after Ghassan Ballut was introduced as the ICP representative, he filed a naturalization petition in which he failed to disclose relationships with any groups. Furr mentioned that most of them lied on their immigration applications and successive immigration documents. Sameeh Hammoudeh came on a tourist visa to give a speech at the 1992 ICP conference, and never left the U.S. Sami al-Arian had been working on getting Sameeh Hammoudeh into the U.S. since May of 1991.
He mentioned the publications Islam and Palestine, al-Mujahid, Inquiry, and al-Ummah in reference to articles that praise Palestinian Islamic Jihad attacks. He referenced the three wills of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad members that were saved on Sami al-Arian's computer (as mentioned in the indictment). Furr said that investigators also found lists of dates of the deaths of Palestinian Islamic Jihad martyrs to send money to their families. Four bank accounts were opened at the Mercantile Discount Bank in the West Bank. Sami al-Arian transferred four sums of $2,000 each to the families of the "pitchfork" Palestinian Islamic Jihad martyrs. After the money was withdrawn, the accounts become dormant and then closed.
Furr discussed the pattern and history of infighting between the top level officers of Palestinian Islamic Jihad that is found throughout the wiretaps and as outlined in the indictment.
Furr said that the PBS documentary "Jihad in America" was the "triggering event" that started a greater media inquiry into the affairs of Sami al-Arian, ICP and WISE.
References were made to code language used throughout the wiretaps, including substituting the words "books," "shirts" and "library" to mean money or bank.
Furr detailed the April 9, 1995 bus bombing in Kfar Drom that killed American Alisa Flatow. He talked about the killing Fathi Shikaki, and the fact that Shallah's leaving USF to become Secretary General of Palestinian Islamic Jihad brought even more scrutiny on the Tampa Cell.
St. Petersburg Times Reporter Jim Harper called Sami al-Arian three times asking him about Shallah's time in Tampa. Sami al-Arian denied that he worked here, and denied even that his last name was Shallah, even though Sami al-Arian had sponsored Shallah's visa application.
For fear of further scrutiny, the Cell evolved their money laundering methods, which included wire transfers, couriers, Hawala, using family members' accounts (i.e. Sameeh Hammoudeh's father's Arab Bank account).
Furr then told the story of WISE transferring money into Sameeh Hammoudeh's accounts to keep him in the country, even though he was not allowed to work. The funds were subsequently removed as soon as the INS reviewed the accounts and allowed him to stay in the country.
Local Tampa attorney (and former interim USF President) William Reese Smith interviewed Sameeh Hammoudeh and asked him why he came to the U.S. and whether he knew Sami al-Arian and/or Ramadan Abdullah Shallah before he came to the U.S. Sameeh Hammoudeh lied to William Reese Smith, and denied that he knew them.
Furr said that investigators found "trophy shots" (i.e. dead Jews) and martyr lists on Ghassan Ballut's computer. He discussed money laundering and terror financing by Salah Abu Hasneem and Bulbol as alleged in the indictment. He discussed the use of the Middle East Financial Services company in Chicago as the money wire transfer service used by the defendants.
According to Furr, in 2002 Sami al-Arian and Hatem Fariz believed that their Cell had been infiltrated by the CIA or FBI. Furr said that Sami al-Arian lied to the FBI as early as 1991. He lied to reporters, to USF, to local Muslims and to people in the crowd at his various speaking engagements.
Furr closed by saying there is information, good and bad, that flowed up and flowed up to Sami al-Arian. The jury will get to know the double life of the defendants and their dedication to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and find them guilty.
Defense Opening Statement:
Sami al-Arian attorney Bill Moffitt began @ 3:00 p.m.
He said there was no money going out of the U.S. for bombs, guns, but there was money coming into the U.S. to finance political speech. He said there was no evidence that Sami al-Arian had foreknowledge of attacks or planned any attacks. He said here in the U.S., there was no evidence that any violent act took place or was planned in the U.S.
Moffitt said that further, in a prosecution pleading, the statute referenced did not prohibit being a member of an illegal group, that you could espouse the goals of that group. You are even free to praise terrorist groups, and applaud their goals.
Moffitt said the "outstanding feature of this case is Freedom of Speech."
Moffitt "digressed," and told the jury that if they were afraid, they would not be able to give the presumption of innocence to his client. The prosecution objected as argumentative. The Judge sustained.
Moffitt said that most of the evidence in the case was Israeli evidence, and the evidence was mostly "indicative of human conflict." And that "our hearts go out to the victims of human conflict" whether they be Israeli or Palestinian.
Moffitt said that the Israelis are here to silence Dr. Al-Arian. The "irony" of this case was that Sami al-Arian was in the U.S. to "educate" Americans on the Palestinian side of the I/P conflict. U.S. and Israel are the only two countries that refer to the "territories" as "the territories." All other countries refer to them as the "occupied territories." He told the jury that they should examine the implications of this.
Moffitt said that Sami al-Arian simply wanted to stimulate discussion and educate people by holding these conferences, and that the language related to the political struggle of people can often be harsh, and that while one does not have to agree with it, allowing for it is part of our great political heritage in the country.
He also described the wiretap conversations as "conversations between friends regarding events in the Middle East." And the faxes were foreign news articles. He said there were 472,239 calls between 1994 and 2003, but only 295 of which are relevant, which averages to 30 per year, which was 2 per month which (according to Moffitt) is not a very active organization.
He said that Sami al-Arian had an "immigrant's view" of the First Amendment, meaning native Americans take their rights for granted, but he truly believed he could say whatever he wanted. Moffitt then gets into his views on Conspiracy charges, saying that the government pieced together a conspiracy charge on flimsy evidence because it is easy to allege., at which point the prosecution objected on grounds that Moffitt was being argumentative, and the judge sustained.
Then Moffitt addressed two props which he had previously placed in front of the jury. He said his client should not apologize for sending money to women and children. One chart had a timeline of "overt acts" between 1988 and 2002. He said everything that happened before 1995 was not illegal. And that most of the overt acts occurred before 1995. He mentioned the 1997 Department of State Designation of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was two years after President Clinton's executive order.
Moffitt played up the length of the investigation, saying that the government had been monitoring Sami al-Arian for ten years, and if he was so dangerous, why did they not arrest him earlier. He also mentioned Sami al-Arian multiple contacts with high ranking government officials including four meetings with Presidents and/or Presidential Candidates. He said if Sami was so dangerous, why was he allowed to go all over Washington D.C.?
Moffitt also talked about Fawaz Damra, asking why he was not included in the indictment, since the prosecution alleges he was the one who gave much of the incendiary speeches at the ICP conferences as well as led the fundraising efforts.
Then Moffitt spoke about his personal theory of what constitutes a "front group." He said front groups do not produce things, they are only shells. But WISE produced 19 academic volumes. Moffitt pointed to an exhibit which listed various institutions which had asked WISE for materials, including the CIA D.C. library and the Israeli Embassy.
Moffitt described ICP events as being "totally academic." He described attendees as being both Muslim and non-Muslim, including "Christians and secularists and nationalists." He listed off all the ICP events, listing the number of speakers and their individual nationalities. He said ICP conferences did not promote Palestinian Islamic Jihad but did have a Palestinian spin.
He talked about unindicted co-conspirator Tariq Hamdi, who now works for the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. During his security clearance, he fully briefed the FBI on his ICP days. He said that Hasan Turabi, purportedly a terrorist and a speaker at an ICP conference, was giving testimony before Congress in front of the subcommittee on Africa and meeting with the think tanks Brookings and CSIS.
He said that Khalil Shikaki, WISE's first executive director was offered a professorship this fall at Brandies. He sarcastically mentioned the government's references to the Islamic Academy of Florida as a "front group," noting that Sami al-Arian sent his kids there, and they went on to the "London Business School" (he meant the London School of Economics) and the University of Chicago, and that IAF graduates have gone to university at Duke and Georgetown.
Moffitt then introduced the jury to the "interesting subject" of Jihad, which Sami al-Arian spoke about frequently. Moffitt said one of the things Sami al-Arian believes in is "Jihad is education," which is why he was so proud of his school, IAF. He was principal for a time.
He said Sami al-Arian never knew of an attack before it happened or helped plan an attack. Moffitt reminded the jury, as he said before, that it is not illegal to feed women and children. He said labeling people Palestinian Islamic Jihad orphans means they should be denied charity because of the political beliefs of their relatives and this court should not do this.
He said that the evidence will show that the Muslim Women's Society sponsored 170 children in "Palestine." In 1993, Sami al-Arian spoke at McDill Air Force Base and he was invited because of his commitment to "Palestine."
Moffitt said that, "in the end, we will tell you we were thankful" that the wiretaps exist. 427,000 phone calls will tell you no violence was planned. "You will hear about his intentions."
Then Moffitt spoke about the "Society for Religious Preaching and Guidance" and how it moved the discussion away form political rhetoric to a non-violent, Islamic solution. Moffitt said that the defendants spoke about non-violence promotion with the Israelis, described as "the cousins" on the wiretap conversations.
Moffitt then tried to minimize various "overt acts" alleged by the government. He said overt act 36A was just a fax suggesting that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have a non-violent organization. Overt act 40 was Al-Arian saying "we should get out" of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Overt act 54 was Nafi saying, "I'm over, I'm out" of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Moffitt moved the discussion towards the deportation hearings of Sami al-Arian's brother in law Mazen al-Najjar. He recounted Sami al-Arian's heavy involvement in the campaign against the use of Secret Evidence in immigration cases. In fact, Moffitt suggested that this was the sole reason the government went after Sami al-Arian in the first place, saying that after he made various high level political connections and lobbied against Secret Evidence, that he then, for the first time, became a threat to the United States.
Moffitt showed pictures of Sami al-Arian with Clinton and Bush, spoke about meeting with David Bonior and President Clinton at a campaign meeting for Cynthia McKinney. He also spoke about Sami al-Arian working with Henry Hyde's staffers and his decision to support Presidential Candidate George Bush in 2000, because Bush spoke about Secret Evidence during one of the campaign debates.
Moffitt said that Sami al-Arian got into the White House. Did anyone think he was a threat? They would have done something about him if he was a threat. They don't allow people to get close to the president. Moffitt then spoke about the searches on Sami al-Arian's house in 1995 and 2003. He said a small revolver was found in Sami al-Arian's house during both raids, but the law enforcement left the gun behind both times. If he were dangerous, why would they leave the gun behind?
Moffitt ended by restating a theme he visited throughout his opening statement, America's heritage. He asked the jury if they were going to be true to America's heritage of protecting unpopular speech. He said everyone gets a shot, in an issue that involves something changeable like U.S. foreign policy. He said it's natural to silence the dissenter, but only if "we are right." If we allow the dissenter to speak, we might learn something, particularly in areas that change like U.S. foreign policy. He reminded the jury that at one time, Saddam Hussein was our friend and ally.
He told the jury to not allow the silencing of Sami al-Arian to serve some unknown foreign policy goal of the United States.