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Dr. Al-Arian acquitted on terror charges

TAMPA, FL. November 6, 2005 -  After a five-month trial and 13 days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Dr. Sami Al-Arian of eight charges, including conspiring to maim and murder people overseas. After serving 33 months in jail awaiting trial and a verdict, Al-Arian was returned to prison and will remain there until prosecutors decide whether to retry him on the deadlocked charges.  

Two other men, Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, were found not guilty of all charges. The fourth man, Hatem Naji Fariz, was acquitted on 25 charges, with the jury unable to decide on eight others.

American Muslim organizations hailed the acquittal verdicts. The American Muslim Voice said that the accusations amounted to guilt-by-association, and the jury was able to see through this. The AMV Executive Director, Samina Faheem Sundas said that this case showed us how great is the American justice system. 

American Muslim Alliance Chairman Dr. Agha Saeed who was the principal character witness for Prof Sami Al-Arian said: “This outcome could have global impact in winning the hearts and minds of Muslims by demonstrating to them that in America a witch hunt against legitimate Muslim leaders, even if launched by a section of the establishment, cannot go unchallenged.”

"We commend the jury for offering its objective decision without being swayed by a negative political environment," said  Executive Director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati. "We congratulate Mr. Al-Arian and his family for enduring this painful ordeal." 

The five-month trial included testimony by nearly 80 witnesses and the presentation of 1,800 faxes, wiretap transcripts, email and other exhibits. However, prosecutors conceded that no single piece of evidence directly linked the defendants to terrorist acts.

The acquittal of Dr. Sami Al-Arian by jurors in South Florida earlier today proves once again that everyone deserves their day in court, and that such cases should be fairly tried in the court of law not the court of public opinion, said an MPAC statement.

"This shows we have faith in the American justice system," said Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which had supported Al-Arian. "This has shown that America is not only the best country in the world, but the jurors proved that we also have the best justice system."

The Associated Press reported that in a stinging defeat for prosecutors, a former Florida professor accused of helping lead a terrorist group that has carried out suicide bombings against Israel was acquitted on nearly half the charges against him Tuesday, and the jury deadlocked on the rest. The case against Sami Al-Arian, 47, had been seen as one of the biggest courtroom tests yet of the Patriot Act's expanded search-and-surveillance powers.

Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer engineering professor, wept after the verdicts, and his attorney, Linda Moreno hugged him. He will return to jail until prosecutors decide whether to retry him on the deadlocked charges.

Moreno said she hoped prosecutors would take into account the "overwhelming number of not-guilty verdicts" against the defendants in deciding whether to try Al-Arian again. "We are so grateful to these jurors," Moreno said. "They worked hard." She planned to ask the court soon to release Al-Arian from jail.

Al-Arian's wife, Nahla, celebrated outside the courthouse with family members and supporters. "I'm ecstatic," she said. "My husband is an outspoken Palestinian activist who loved this country, believed in the system, and the system did not fail him."

"While we respect the jury's verdict, we stand by the evidence we presented in court," Justice Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinos said.

Federal prosecutors said Sami Al-Arian and his co-defendants acted as the communications arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, spreading the word and raising money that went toward the suicide attacks that have killed hundreds.

Al-Arian was considered one of the most important terrorist figures to be brought to trial in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His indictment in 2003 was hailed by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as one of the first triumphs of the Patriot Act, which was enacted in the weeks after Sept. 11.

The Patriot Act gave the government greatly expanded powers and broke down the wall between foreign intelligence investigations and domestic law enforcement. In the Al-Arian case, officials said, it allowed separate FBI investigations - one of them a years long secret foreign intelligence probe of the professor's activities - to be combined and all the evidence used against him.

A male juror, whose name was being kept secret by the court, said he did not see the case as a First Amendment issue, explaining that the decision came down to lack of proof. "I didn't see the evidence," he said.

On Monday, the panel told federal Judge James S. Moody that they could not reach verdicts on all counts. Moody sent them back to continue deliberations, and they emerged Tuesday to tell the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked on the remaining counts against Al-Arian and Fariz.

One juror said in a note to the judge that she was being pressured by other jurors to change her vote and could not continue to deliberate. "My nerves and my conscience are being whipped into submission," the juror wrote.

Al-Arian, a Palestinian who was born in Kuwait, has lived in the United States since 1975. He was granted permanent-resident status in 1989 and denied U.S. citizenship in 1996. He was fired from the university shortly after he was indicted.

The federal jury heard from 80 government witnesses and listened to often-plodding testimony about faxes and wiretapped phone calls.

The government alleged that the defendants were part of a Tampa terrorist cell that took the lead in determining the structure and goals of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the State Department has listed as a terrorist group. Prosecutors said Al-Arian and other members of the terrorist organization used the university to give them cover as teachers and students, and held meetings under the guise of academic conferences.

The defendants said that although they were vocal advocates in the United States for the Palestinian cause and may have celebrated news of the terrorist group's attacks, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about any violence. They said the money they raised and sent to the Palestinian territories was for legitimate charities.

Al-Arian's attorney, William Moffit, said the professor was being persecuted for espousing unpopular opinions that should be protected under the First Amendment.

"Any discussion of Sami Al-Arian being the most powerful man in the PIJ is fantasy," Moffitt said in his closing argument. "He never had control of the money, he never made any decisions."

The case was built on hundreds of pages of transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and faxes, records of money moving through accounts, documents seized from the defendants' homes and offices, and their own words on video. At times, the participants appeared to speak glowingly of the Palestinian "martyrs" who carried out suicide attacks. (Media Reports)

American Muslims welcome Al-Arian verdict
Jury's decision viewed by Muslims as vindication of justice system

Washington, D.C., Dec. 7, 2005 - The American Muslim Taskforce for Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of 11 major Muslim organizations, today welcomed Tuesday's verdict in the case of Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants who were found not guilty on a number of counts related to supporting terrorism, perjury and immigration violations.

"The verdict in this case could have a global impact on winning the hearts and minds of Muslims by demonstrating that America is a nation in which the judiciary can be independent of political pressures, and citizens serving on juries can reach a verdict based on the evidence, not on fear or prejudice," said AMT Chairman Dr. Agha Saeed, who was a character witness for Al-Arian. "This is a victory for all those who support due process and a vindication of America's finest ideals and principles."

Dr. Saeed thanked the academics, journalists, lawyers, religious leaders, activists and other concerned citizens who stood with Al-Arian and supported his legal rights.

"This verdict has created a reservoir of goodwill for the United States. Our government should use this moment to team up with American Muslims in building bridges with the Islamic world," said Dr. Saeed.

He urged President Bush to respect the verdict and to let Al-Arian become a living symbol of America's open, pluralistic and justice-based society. Such a gesture will allow America to credibly advocate for the right to free speech in countries around the world that lack such freedoms.

The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT) is an umbrella organization represented by: American Muslim Alliance (AMA), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA), Muslim American Society (MAS), Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Muslim Student Association - National (MSA-National), Project Islamic Hope (PIH), and United Muslims of America (UMA)