Sami Al-Arian: A Valuable Witness?
by Brian Hecht and Tamar Tesler
September 26, 2006
Today's St. Petersburg Times reports that convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative, Sami Al-Arian, has been brought to Northern Virginia to possibly testify before a grand jury investigating an area Islamic think tank, presumably, according to the St. Pete Times, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). The article states that Al-Arian's ex-lawyer claims this move is "a ploy to further punish Al-Arian, who will likely not testify and will be held in contempt," but a look at al-Arian's Palestinian Islamic Jihad affiliated organizations in Tampa reveals a long standing financial and ideological history that he has had with IIIT, thus making him an obvious valuable witness.
Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, Secretary General of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the mid 90's, was brought in by Al-Arian a few years earlier to be a director of Al-Arian's Tampa-based think tank, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). In 1991, the University of South Florida (affiliated with WISE at the time) asked WISE to provide an account of their funding sources. Ramadan Abdullah (Shallah) wrote in response that their "largest contributor is the Washington-based Islamic Institute for International Thought (IIIT)."
IIIT's then president, Taha Jaber al-Awani, wrote his own letter to Al-Arian in 1992 in which he detailed the amount of financial support IIIT had given to Al-Arian and his organizations between January 1991 and September 1992. IIIT sent al-Arian checks totaling $50,000 with a pledge of $5,000 more.
A few weeks later, Al-Awani wrote another letter to Al-Arian in which he stated that he considers Al-Arian, "brother Ramadan" [Abdullah Shallah] and "Sheikh Abdel Aziz" (referring to Abdel Aziz Odeh, a founder and spiritual leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad),:
"as a group…a part of us and an extension of us." And he continued that "Also, we are a part of you and an extension of you. We have had no doubts of this since we've known you and will continue as such. The matter of financial support was never at any time the basis of our relationship, as our relationship, in addition to being a brotherhood of faith and Islam, is an ideological and cultural concordance with mutual objectives. For us, we deem all of your institutions our own, and they receive widespread attention.Another IIIT connection involves Bashir Musa Nafi, one of the original founders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In 1995, Al-Arian sponsored a petition for a workers visa on behalf of Nafi to allow him to work as a research director employed by WISE. However, Nafi was actually employed by IIIT, and false information on his INS petition leading to Nafi's deportation to London in June 1996.
Whether or not Al-Arian decides to cooperate with the grand jury, there is ample evidence in the public record linking Al-Arian and his activities to IIIT which indicates that prosecutors have good reason to believe that al-Arian would be an important witness- one of many – into any investigation of IIIT.