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After hearing from US government witnesses for nearly five months, an attorney for a fired college professor charged with aiding Palestinian terrorists rested his case Thursday without calling a single witness.
After summoning more than 70 witnesses, federal prosecutors rested their case earlier Thursday morning against Sami Al-Arian and three other defendants accused of raising money and supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Arian's attorney, William Moffitt, stunned most in the courtroom when he told US District Judge James S. Moody Jr. that he also would rest. Attorneys for Al-Arian's three co-defendants began presenting their cases, which could take several weeks. Because the trial was continuing Thursday morning, neither side was immediately available for comment.
Prosecutors built their case around hundreds of pages of transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and faxes they say proves that the defendants raised money to fund the cycle of suicide bombings that killed hundreds.
The conversations and correspondence, intercepted by the FBI from the mid-1990s to about 2003, included discussions about the direction and financing of the Islamic Jihad. Other times, the participants appear to celebrate suicide attacks that killed Israelis and speak glowingly of the Palestinian "martyrs" who carried them out.
Jurors also heard from victims and witnesses of three suicide bombings carried out by the PIJ in Israel and the Palestinian territories, although Al-Arian and the others are not accused of being directly involved in them.
Al-Arian, 47, and his co-defendants - Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatem Naji Fariz - face a 53-count indictment that includes charges of providing material support to terrorists, racketeering and conspiracy. Five other men have been indicted but have not been arrested. They are out of the United States.
Prosecutors allege they used the academic think tank, a Palestinian charity and school founded by Al-Arian in Tampa, as fundraising fronts for the Islamic Jihad. Prosecutors say they acted as the communications arm of the Jihad, spreading the word and raising money as they fueled the cycle of suicide bombings.
The men deny they supported violent acts and say they are being persecuted for championing views that are unpopular with the US government. They claim the money they raised went to benefit Palestinian charitable causes.