- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — More than 10 years ago, American student Alisa Flatow boarded a bus headed to a Gaza Strip beach resort for a much-needed break from her studies.

At the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom, a young man sat in a van loaded with explosives. As the bus approached, he steered his rolling bomb at it with ferocious speed and slammed into the side of the bus.

Eight persons — seven Israelis and Miss Flatow — died in the April 9, 1995, terrorist attack.

Now her parents are looking for justice half a world away in Tampa, where a former computer science professor and three others are going on trial on charges they helped fund the terrorist group that carried out the bombing. Jury selection begins today.

Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor and nationally known Palestinian activist, was secretly under investigation by FBI foreign intelligence agents at the time of the 1995 bombing.

Mr. Al-Arian had established an Islamic academic think tank, a school, a mosque and a charity for Palestinian children, but authorities were questioning whether the true mission of Mr. Al-Arian’s work was to finance terrorist attacks in Israel.

In a 53-count indictment, Mr. Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Naji Fariz and Ghassan Zayed Ballut are accused of racketeering, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Five other men have been indicted but are still at large.

The men face life in prison if convicted of charges they used Mr. Al-Arian’s think tank and charity as fundraising fronts for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“These people, they have no respect for life,” said Miss Flatow’s father, Stephen Flatow of West Orange, N.J. “They will continue to pick on innocent people just to accomplish their means. That’s why this trial is so important. You have to send a message.”

Mr. Al-Arian’s defenders portray him as a persecuted crusader for Palestinian rights. “Much of what people are saying about Sami Al-Arian could have been said likewise about Nelson Mandela,” defense attorney William Moffitt said.

Prosecutors say evidence directly links Mr. Al-Arian’s involvement with terrorist attacks. The indictment says that in 1993 Mr. Al-Arian sent four wire transfers of nearly $2,000 each to the relatives of four Islamic Jihad terrorists who had been convicted of the murders of three Israelis.

Among the five indicted co-conspirators who have not been arrested is Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. Mr. Al-Arian brought Shallah to the University of South Florida to run the World and Islam Studies Enterprise think tank. Shallah abruptly left Tampa in mid-1995 and resurfaced in Damascus as the Islamic Jihad’s new leader.

Mr. Al-Arian’s attorneys question how a supposed dangerous terrorist financier could have gained access to the White House and met with Presidents Clinton and Bush. Nearly two dozen other prominent political and government leaders from both parties are reported by Mr. Al-Arian’s attorneys to have had contact with him.

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