A think tank founded by former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian was financed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, defense attorney William Moffitt told jurors in the professor's terror support trial Wednesday.
He also told jurors that his client lied to reporters in 1995 after one of the think tank's directors emerged as the Islamic Jihad's new secretary general.
The World and Islam Studies Enterprise was a place for Western academics to learn more about Islam and the Middle East, Moffitt said. Al- Arian wanted to keep the think tank alive and argued with Islamic Jihad leaders in 1994 when they told him a financial crisis would cut off funding to it.
Al-Arian tried to distance himself from the Islamic Jihad in 1995, after President Clinton signed an executive order banning transactions with it and other terrorist groups, Moffitt said. So when Ramadan Abdullah Shallah took over the organization that fall, Al-Arian lied about his knowledge of Shallah's activities. "Confronted with the timing," Moffitt asked, "what would you do?"
He also referred to an October 2000 call in which defendant Sameeh Hammoudeh learned from a high ranking Palestinian Authority figure that Yasser Arafat has approved a resumption of terror attacks. Arafat didn't have an army, Moffitt said, so he used Hamas and the Islamic Jihad as negotiating tools; either deal with Arafat or face the crazies, Moffitt said.
"That's not crime. That's politics," he said. Hamas and Islamic Jihad became "instruments of foreign policy."
Moffitt closed his argument with another impassioned plea for jurors to consider the First Amendment. His voice down to a whisper, he told jurors not to let the government limit the right of people to speak their minds about a cause.
Defense attorney Stephen Bernstein, who represents Hammoudeh, offered a contrast in the beginning of his closing argument late Wednesday morning. He pointed to the government's evidence to argue that it failed to prove prosecutors' claims that Hammoudeh was a salaried member of the Islamic Jihad.
"This is the evidence," he said repeatedly. "It's not a summary. It's not an opinion."
Bernstein should conclude his remarks during the afternoon. Then attorneys for Ghassan Ballut will speak to the jury.