Concern is mounting about the possible connections between a prominent Palestinian Arab scholar, Khalil Shikaki, and leading members of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Government wiretaps introduced at the trial of a Florida professor accused of operating the American wing of PIJ, Sami Al-Arian, show Mr. Shikaki distributed money in the West Bank for Al-Arian associates allegedly tied to PIJ - conversations the federal government argues may represent terrorist activity.
Mr. Shikaki is, among many scholarly affiliations, the founder and director of a prominent polling institute, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, and last year was named a scholar at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. Among Palestinian Islamic Jihad's more notorious acts was an April 1995 bombing in Israel that killed a Brandeis student, Alisa Flatow.
He is also the brother of the assassinated founder of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fathi Shikaki, and a former director of the Florida-based World & Islam Studies Enterprise. WISE was founded by Mr. Al-Arian and connected to several other figures involved in the recent PIJ terrorism trials in Tampa, Fla., during which Mr. Al-Arian and three co-defendants were acquitted.
Mr. Shikaki has not been indicted on any criminal charges in America, and has repeatedly denied any connection to his brother's terrorist operation; any knowledge of the connections between WISE and the Islamic Committee for Palestine - both alleged by the government to be front groups for Islamic Jihad - and PIJ, and any knowledge that top figures in the organization with whom he had associated, including its current leader, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, and an Al-Arian associate affiliated with WISE, Sameeh Hammoudeh, were at all involved in PIJ. Mr. Hammoudeh was one of the co-defendants in the Al-Arian case, and was acquitted on all counts.
Wiretaps of conversations between Messrs. Shikaki, Shallah, and Hammoudeh introduced as evidence at the Al-Arian trial, however, suggest that Mr. Shikaki distributed money in the West Bank for Al-Arian associates, who raised the funds in America, and then stopped the money transfers in January 1995, shortly after PIJ was declared a blocked terrorist organization by President Clinton.
In a government wiretap dated January 15, 1995, in a conversation between Messrs. Shikaki and Hammoudeh, Mr. Hammoudeh says to Mr. Shikaki: "If you please, do us a favor. There is an amount of money for orphans in Nablus." In the case against Mr. Al-Arian, the government argued and introduced evidence indicating that "orphans" was a code for Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Mr. Shikaki replies: "Um ... Eah. [Pause.] [Sighs.] Okay, when you want to give it to them."
In a wiretap from January 28, 1995, Mr. Hammoudeh calls Mr. Shikaki again from Florida to inquire about the money distribution, and Mr. Shikaki refuses - five days after Mr. Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting financial transactions with terrorist organizations threatening the Middle East peace process, including PIJ.
"What have you done for us regarding the subject," Mr. Hammoudeh asks. "Ehh ... I did not do anything for you yet, by God, Sameeh," Mr. Shikaki replies. "If you have another way to give them money, a way other than my way ..."
Mr. Hammoudeh then says: "By God... I mean I can send them a check through the mail. But I thought this way is better, more secure."
Another wiretap entered into evidence, from February 15, 1995, suggests that Mr. Shikaki's sudden refusal after the Clinton order terminated an established pattern of his distributing money for ICP- and PIJ-connected figures. In the February wiretap, a leading member of ICP and WISE who was arrested and deported from America in 2001 for his connections to terrorism, and Mr. Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, converses with another Al-Arian associate, Bashir Nafi.
"Do you know what our problem with the Orphan Sponsorship Project is now?" Mr. Al-Najjar says. "... We cannot find someone to receive the money and distribute it," adding later, "Khalil refused to receive ... In the past we were depositing it in Khalil's account here," Mr. Al-Najjar says, referring to Mr. Shikaki's personal account in Florida, which bank records introduced as evidence at the Al-Arian trial showed to have received deposits from Al-Arian associates.
The wiretaps showing Mr. Shikaki's involvement in distributing money from alleged PIJ-affiliated institutions in Tampa to interests in the West Bank call into question the degree to which Mr. Shikaki, now a prominent academic figure in America and the Middle East, should continue receiving affiliations, invitations, and accolades from Jewish and academic organizations, Steven Emerson, the director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said.
Mr. Shikaki is, for example, scheduled to headline a forum on the Palestinian elections at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy here Thursday.
"The pattern of evidence from the wiretaps introduced at the trial ... and other material clearly show that Shikaki was intimately not just aware of, but participated in the operations of Islamic Jihad until January 1995, contrary to all of his public denials," Mr. Emerson said. "He was a pivotal player in the creation of these institutions - the transfer point between the different parties in the Islamic Jihad, and their transfers of monies."
Mr. Shikaki did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week. Attempts to reach Mr. Shikaki through the Palestinian Center, Brandeis, and the Washington Institute yielded no replies. Individuals familiar with Mr. Shikaki yesterday said he rarely issues public comment about Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The lawyer for Mr. Hammoudeh, Stephen Bernstein, however, told The New York Sun yesterday that Mr. Shikaki has not been indicted for any crime, and is regarded as a well-respected academic and a moderate. Mr. Bernstein also said that the wiretaps showed only discussions pertaining to a charity that provided aid to blind children, adding that the defense in the Al-Arian trial had provided receipts accounting for the funds dedicated to orphans.
"I think that there's lots of evidence that goes to support that the funds shown in the wiretap were for charitable reasons, and there's no evidence to support the suspicions or allegations the government claimed," Mr. Bernstein said.
The father of the Brandeis student killed by PIJ, Stephen Flatow, however, said that "what troubles me the most" about Mr. Shikaki "is the fact that he's been rehabilitated, if that's the word," referring to his popularity in the academic community.
"How ironic is it that if he is tainted by Islamic Jihad, that he be teaching at a university where one of the students was killed by Islamic Jihad?" Mr. Flatow said, referring to Brandeis's Crown Center. "You have to wonder what they were thinking."