Evidence in the trial of Sami Al-Arian Thursday indicated that four of his associates at a Tampa think tank were simultaneously drawing salaries from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
References to salaries paid by PIJ in the United States came to light during a telephone exchange between the former USF professor and Abd Al Aziz Awda, a PIJ religious leader, in Damascus, Syria, that was captured by wiretap.
Federal prosecutors took on roles Thursday to read the conversations in court, apparently hoping to make clearer the significance of exchanges between Al-Arian and members of the governing council of Palestinian Islamic Jihad during January 1994. The topic was a money dispute that was dividing the organization.
Awda has been indicted along with Al-Arian, but is not in custody. The conversation was recorded by federal authorities on Jan. 22, 1994, about 4 a.m.
The two men spent much of the time talking about disputes over PIJ spending, and money going to "martyrs."
Later, the conversation turns to people drawing salaries in America. Although the people are mentioned by first name only, the names all correspond to people associated with Al-Arian at the time, including an apparent reference to Mazen Al-Najjar, Al-Arian's brother-in-law.
Al-Najjar was in jail off and on for five years on secret evidence the government said linked him to terrorism. He was deported in 2002.
Here is the text of the transcript:
Awda: The other day, brother Fathi (Shikaki, the PIJ leader) came and sat with me to show me how much the requirements are for the fields (inaudible). He wrote it out in front of me, and I was sitting with him.
Awda: He told me, for example, America, or America and the West, we sent them (inaudible) seven salaries, 2,000 for Mazen, hello, hello.
Awda: 2,000 for Mazen, and 2,000 for Ramadan, (inaudible) he designated them seven, for Ramadan and Mazen and Bashir.
Awda: And he said 1,000 for Sameeh.
The prosecutors did not elaborate on the conversation's contents. Defense attorneys will have an opportunity later to cross-examine witnesses about the evidence.
The PIJ was designated a terrorist organization by presidential order in 1995. This conversation took place a year before that.
Al-Najjar, Ramadan Shallah, Bashir Nafi and Sameeh Hammoudeh worked with Al-Arian in Tampa at World and Islam Studies Enterprise or WISE, a USF-affiliated think tank he founded.
Al-Najjar worked at both USF and WISE. Although he is not currently in custody, he is also listed as a co-defendant in the trial.
Shallah was executive director of WISE, and an instructor at USF. He left Tampa in 1995 following the death of Shikaki, and soon emerged as the new PIJ leader. He, too, is listed as a co- defendant, but is not in custody.
Bashir Nafi lives in London, and is also an unarrested co- defendant. He, too, was once a director of WISE.
Sameeh Hammoudeh is one of the four defendants on trial in Tampa. He worked at WISE, and was a teaching assistant and doctoral student at USF.
Hammoudeh, Al-Arian, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut are the four defendants standing trial in U.S. District Court, charged with conspiring to raise money for PIJ terrorist acts. The PIJ has claimed responsibility for killing more than 100 people in Israel and the occupied territories.
A lot of the talk between Al-Arian and other PIJ members in mid January 1994 deals with a PIJ rift over finances. Kerry Myers, FBI case agent, told the jury the problem occurred when Iran stopped funding the PIJ because it wanted more accountability.
In the conversations, Al-Arian repeatedly suggests ways to reorganize PIJ finances, and is asked by those involved in arguments to petition on their behalf.
He, in turn, asks about houses owned by PIJ members, stores of gold, and how many "rabbits" or millions of dollars the PIJ has received previously from Iran.
While it is clear who is talking, it is not always clear who the subject of the conversation is because of the use of pronouns in the conversations. This is a point that defense attorneys will likely raise when they cross-examine.
Monday, prosecutors will continue to read the 1994 conversations, with Terry Zitek taking the part of Al-Arian and Alexis Collins taking the part of the PIJ member on the other end of the line.