No conviction in Al Arian trial

Grand jury acquits Florida professor accused with assisting Islamic Jihad.

sami al arian 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
sami al arian 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US prosecution suffered a blow Tuesday when its high profile terror case against a Florida professor, accused with assisting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), ended with no conviction. A grand jury in Tampa acquitted Al Arian and three other co-defendants from several of the conspiracy and terror accounts they were charged with and reached a deadlock on all the other counts. The prosecution is still weighing the possibility to ask for a re-trial on the counts in which the jury was in disagreement on. The Al-Arian trial was the biggest and most elaborate case the US has brought against a suspect in aiding terror since the 9-11 attacks and it relied heavily on evidence that was made available by the US Patriot Act, that eases the restrictions on using wiretaps in criminal cases. Israel has played a major role in the prosecution, providing countless documents regarding the conduct of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and sending over 50 witnesses to testify on the horror of the suicide attacks carried out by the Islamic Jihad. These witnesses included victims of bus bombings and family members who lost loved ones in such attacks, policemen and rescue workers who were at the scenes of these attacks and terror experts. But though the prosecution put on an impressive lengthy presentation, describing the murderous attacks of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad against Israelis and trying to make the connection between professor Al-Arian and these attacks, the jury was not convinced that the Florida computer science professor's actions crossed the line between legitimate political support to the Palestinian cause and active aid to a terror group. After the jury read the decision, Al-Arian was taken back to prison, until the prosecution decides if it is going to press for a new trial. He might also face expulsion from the US, because of an alleged breach of immigration laws. Outside the courthouse in Tampa, Al-Arian supporters from the American Arab and Moslem communities broke out in joy and praised the jury for not accepting the prosecution's claims. The Justice department put out a short statement in which it vows to keep up the work against terrorists and their supporters in the US. Sami Al-Arian was charged with 17 counts of assisting a terror group and conspiring to commit murder, relating to the attacks carried out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Israel. According to the prosecution, Al-Arian and a think tank he led at the University of Southern Florida, served as a front for the PIJ, helping it raise money, conveying messages on its behalf and even working out disputes between members of the group. One of the documents presented in court was a letter sent out by Al-Arian, days after the PIJ carried out a suicide attack in Israel, attempting to raise funds for the organization. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad was declared a terror group by the US government in 1995 and any support or assistance to the prohibited by law. Al-Arian and his lawyers claimed that he is persecuted because of his political views, specifically because of his outspoken attacks on Israel and the US pro-Israel policy. Yet one of the jurors told AP news agency after the decision was reached that the jurors did not see the trial as a freedom of speech case and that the reason they did not convict Al-Arian was because the prosecution failed to present evidence that would link him to the terror acts.