- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

A former University of South Florida professor, accused of being the North American leader of a Palestinian terrorist organization, wants to represent himself in a still-pending trial that has been deluged with secret wiretapped conversations and classified documents.

Sami A. Al-Arian said he planned to dismiss his government-appointed attorneys and wants his trial to begin next month. He and seven others suspected of being Palestinian Islamic Jihad members are charged with conspiring to finance international terrorist operations.

Prosecutors and three co-defendants have opposed the move vigorously, saying trial cannot begin before next year because of the complexity of the case and the volume of classified evidence.

St. Petersburg, Fla., attorneys Frank Louderback and Jeffrey Brown were appointed April 7 by U.S. Magistrate Thomas McCoun III to represent Mr. Al-Arian. Earlier this month, Mr. Al-Arian, a U.S. resident since 1975, said he wanted to dismiss the two attorneys. He also said he would waive his right to a speedy trial and represent himself.

Mr. Louderback told The Washington Times last week that his client had not yet filed a motion in court to do either. He said a court hearing in the case was scheduled for June 5.

“In the meantime, we are doing what we can to represent our client. That’s what we have been charged to do,” he said.

Mr. Al-Arian, held at a detention center near Tampa, and the other suspects, including four U.S. residents, are accused of financing terrorist operations that killed more than 100 people in Israel and the occupied territories, including two Americans.

Identified by authorities as the North American leader of the Islamic Jihad, a State Department-designated terrorist organization, he first surfaced in February as a key focus of the government’s counterterrorism efforts during raids on several Islamic businesses in Virginia.

A 50-count indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Tampa, said Mr. Al-Arian, 45, “directed the audit of all monies and property of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad throughout the world” and served as the secretary of the Shura Council, the worldwide governing body of the group.

The indictment said that among those killed in terrorist attacks by the Islamic Jihad were Americans Alisa Flatow and Shoshana Ben-Ishai. Miss Flatow, a 20-year-old Brandeis University student studying religion in Israel, died in April 1995 in an attack near the settlement of Kfar Darom. Miss Ben-Ishai, 16, was killed in November 2001 when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire with a submachine gun at a bus in Jerusalem.

In addition to Mr. Al-Arian, others arrested in this country were Sameeh Hammoudeh, 42, an instructor and student at South Florida University; Hatim Naji Fariz, 30, manager of a Florida medical clinic; and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 41, a small-business owner in Illinois.

The other defendants remain overseas. They are Ramadan Shallah, 45, the Islamic Jihad’s secretary-general now in Damascus, Syria; Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib, 46, the organization’s treasurer; Abd Al Aziz Awda, 52, a founder and spiritual leader of the organization; and Bashir Nafi, 50, another founder, and leader of the organization in Britain.

The eight were charged with operating a racketeering enterprise that engaged in murder, extortion, money laundering, and providing support to terrorism; and conspiring in the United States to kill people abroad. They also were accused of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic Jihad; conspiring to violate economic sanctions; and engaging in acts of interstate extortion, perjury, obstruction and immigration fraud.

If convicted, all eight face life sentences.

Law-enforcement authorities say the case is “highly complicated,” noting that more than 1,000 reels of wiretapped conversations and hundreds of other recorded conversations, almost all in Arabic, need to be translated and analyzed. Many of the documents are classified.

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