Former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian and three others could spend the rest of their lives behind bars if convicted of financing terrorist acts by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
But the head of the organization, former USF adjunct professor Ramadan Shallah, remains a free man, visiting Egypt and Iran, meeting with political leaders and directing attacks against Israel. Among them: one last month that killed five people in a busy market and threatened to scuttle the current progress toward peace in the Middle East.
Regardless of what the jury in Tampa decides, Shallah and Islamic Jihad are expected to continue their bloody campaign to "liberate" Palestine and destroy the "Zionist Jewish enemy."
Even as other Palestinian factions become more moderate, "the realistic fear is that the hard-liners in (Islamic Jihad) could still take the view that the existence of Israel is intolerable," says Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. "I think it would be very difficult for someone who has had that position to suddenly switch over to a really pragmatic position."
Shallah, however, could be on the move geographically, if not ideologically. Syria, long his headquarters, is under intense pressure to expel militants. And other Arab countries, wary of angering the United States, are not eager to play host.
"There was fear in Israel that after the withdrawal from Gaza, he might try to enter Gaza and stir up trouble there," says Dr. Meir Litvak of the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv.
"My guess is he would hesitate to do so for fear Israel might try to kill him."
Shallah, a British-educated economist in his late 40s, was indicted in 2003 along with Al-Arian and six others on federal charges stemming from their association with Islamic Jihad. While Al-Arian has spent the entire time in jail, Shallah remained in the Syrian capital of Damascus, well beyond reach of U.S. authorities as he appeared in public and gave interviews to Arab media.
His name surfaced often during the five-month trial, described as the most important terrorism case since the Sept. 11 attacks. Jurors learned much about the inner workings of Islamic Jihad including disputes over financing and direction - even Al-Arian's alleged passion for publicity.
But the jury never heard much about Shallah himself, who has shown a surprising ability to survive as others have fallen into the grip of the U.S. justice system or met gruesome ends from Israeli missiles.
"For Israel to operate in Damascus is problematic, not only from an operational point of view but also because of political repercussions," Litvak says. "And he may be very well guarded."
Shallah was born in a refugee camp in Gaza, the poor, crowded coastal strip that Israel captured from Egypt in 1967. It was in Gaza that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was founded in 1981 by a young doctor, Fath i Shikaki.
While studying in Egypt, Shikaki had split from the mainstream Islamic movement - the Muslim Brotherhood - and its view that Muslims should solve their own problems before dealing with Israel. Instead, Shikaki was inspired by the Iranian revolution, which overthrew a secular, pro-Western government and set up an Islamic state such as he envisioned for Palestine and the rest of the Muslim world.
Islamic Jihad began armed operations in 1984; within a few years Shikaki was arrested and deported to Lebanon. But the organization's strong ideological slant appealed to other young intellectuals, including Ramadan Shallah.
Over the next decade, he would lead a double life - academician and emerging terrorist leader.
While a student at Britain's University of Durham, Shallah headed Islamic Jihad's London office, according to Israel's Institute for Counter-Terrorism. He also handled the organization's military program and information activities in Gaza and the West Bank.
Shallah did his thesis on Islamic banking and, equipped with a doctoral degree in economics, moved on to the United States. The sponsor on his 1993 visa: Sami Al-Arian, then at the University of South Florida.
Al-Arian had started the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, or WISE, a think tank with the stated aim of increasing the West's understanding of Islamic faith and culture.
WISE's first director was Khalil Shikaki, estranged brother of the founder of Islamic Jihad. He soon left USF - today he is a respected pollster and analyst who denounces terrorism - and Shallah assumed the directorship.
In addition to doing research and editing an academic journal for WISE, Shallah taught a course at USF in Middle Eastern politics. He left Tampa in the spring of 1995, telling colleagues he was going to take care of his sick father and research a book on Islamic banking.
Just a few months later - in October 1995 - Fathi Shikaki was assassinated in Malta, reportedly by Israeli agents. His replacement as head of Islamic Jihad: Ramadan Shallah.
Litvak of the Dayan Center says the appointment was a surprise, though he speculates it might have been prompted by turmoil within the organization.
Colleagues had raised "accusations about Shikaki that he embezzled money and became sort of a semidictator. It is possible that (Shallah) was picked as someone who was not involved in this infighting and had been so far away he could be an agreed-on candidate by all."
But, Litvak says, Shallah almost certainly had a long history with Islamic Jihad that would have spanned his time at USF.
"You think an underground terrorist organization would appoint someone they didn't know as their leader, and that he would be responsible for all funding and operations? Not likely."
Al-Arian has denied knowledge of Shallah's Jihad ties. But in early 1995 - while still in Tampa - Shallah and others in Islamic Jihad grew furious with Al-Arian for proposing they team up with Hamas, another militant Palestinian organization, according to FBI wiretaps introduced at trial.
"It's all nonsense," Shallah said of the plan in a phone call to Damascus.
The university broke with WISE after stories in the Tampa Tribune alleged that the institute had brought terrorists into the United States to speak at rallies and conferences. In another phone call to Syria, Shallah blamed Al-Arian for the bad publicity, and complained he made mistakes because of "his passion for appearing in the press."
Evidence and testimony at the trial, though, showed that most of Al-Arian's direct dealings with Islamic Jihad occurred before the U.S. government declared it a terrorist organization in January 1995. And, his lawyers tried to show, his fundraising was to help needy Palestinians, not finance terror attacks.
As the new leader of Islamic Jihad, Shallah "had a tough time at the beginning" as the organization reeled from the death of its charismatic founder, Litvak says.
"When Shallah came along, it took him time to assert full control of the leadership and organization. You could see it took about three years until Islamic Jihad resumed operations."
Unlike his predecessor, Shallah was more of a political leader than an ideologue, Litvak adds. But he maintained close ties to Iran, continued the terror attacks and "now he probably has full control over the movement," Litvak says. "As far as I know, he's not challenged."
Islamic Jihad gets much of its support - an estimated $2-million a year - from Iran, which uses the organization as a proxy in its fight to establish an Islamic state in Palestine. In September, Shallah met in Tehran with Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who claimed credit for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The two men proclaimed that "jihad is the only way to confront the Zionist enemy."
"Even now, when more than 80 percent of Palestinians want the current calm to continue, Iran is pushing Islamic Jihad to provoke violence," Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "In the nine months since an informal cease-fire took hold, Islamic Jihad has been responsible for all four of the major suicide bombings."
Shallah presumably is high on Israel's hit list, although by avoiding Gaza he has escaped the fate of several Hamas leaders. Syria claims he left Damascus months ago. A British newspaper said Hamas and Islamic Jihad asked Egypt and Jordan for permission to move their headquarters there, but that both countries - on good terms with Israel and the United States - turned them down.
Shallah could go to Iran, but probably would prefer to stay in an Arab country. Likely candidates are Yemen, Sudan or one of the smaller Persian Gulf states that view Palestinian militants more as freedom fighters than as terrorists.
"It will be be difficult to make any kind of official relocation, but a covert relocation is entirely possible," says Wilkinson of St. Andrews.
He and other experts think there is little chance that Islamic Jihad, under Shallah's direction, would evolve into a political movement as Hamas is doing. Though a younger organization, Hamas has far broader support because of its programs for the poor and sick. Hamas now controls several Palestinian towns, and its candidates are expected to do well in January's parliamentary election.
"If you look at opinion polls, Islamic Jihad usually has about 3 to 5 percent," Litvak says. "It lacks a wider base and mass support. If they became political, what would be the difference between them and Hamas? But if they keep the uniqueness of a terrorist organization, they would have a raison d'etre."