A year before the United States declared Palestinian Islamic Jihad a terrorist organization, Sami Al-Arian had emerged as a key decisionmaker in the group, according to evidence presented in his federal trial Monday.
Wiretapped phone conversations and faxes from his Tampa home in January and February of 1994 appear to show a PIJ financial crisis, with the former University of South Florida professor taking it upon himself to solve it.
The prosecution introduced about a dozen transcripts of conversations and faxes Monday. In them, Al-Arian talks to PIJ leaders in Damascus, Syria, about how to revamp the organization and get support for his plan to put funds under a central authority, before the PIJ runs out of money.
The conversations raise the curtain on the inner financial workings of the PIJ, which has claimed responsibility for the deaths of more than 100 people in Israel and the occupied territories.
It appears from these wiretaps that Al-Arian and his Tampa colleagues were dependent on PIJ funding, hoping to get about $200,000 to keep a Tampa-based Middle East think tank afloat.
On Jan. 25, 1994, Al-Arian faxed the 10-member Shura council, the PIJ board of directors to which Al-Arian belonged, a letter about his proposal to solve the financial crisis.
"I want the voting to be in writing or by phone for or against the proposition," he told them.
In a subsequent fax two days later, he urged the council to tell the broader PIJ membership that "internal disagreements" have had a "tragic impact on the families of the martyrs and the prisoners" and that "an account abroad" will be established in the names of brothers Sami (Al-Arian) and Ibrahim," which prosecutors say refers to Fathi Shikaki, then-head of the PIJ.
Al-Arian and three co-defendants, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatem Fariz and Ghassan Ballut - all of whom worked out of Tampa - are charged with helping to fund the violent acts of the PIJ.
The faxes and phone conversations to and from Al-Arian tell of Iranian government support for the PIJ in 1994. They also tell of Iranian disenchantment because of a lack of accountability on the part of those holding and spending PIJ money. Then, they tell of Al-Arian jumping to the rescue with a plan to centralize funds and inform the PIJ membership how money is spent.
The government is trying to show that Al-Arian's role in the finances of the organization was linked to PIJ violence.
With FBI agent and case manager Kerry Myers on the witness stand and his colleague, prosecutor Terry Furr, questioning him, jurors learned that in early 1994, PIJ finances were controlled for a short time by Al-Arian, his brother-in-law Mazen Al-Najjar - both in Tampa at the time - and PIJ leader Shikaki in Damascus.
But it appears from the conversations and faxes presented Monday that the PIJ financially supported activities in Tampa, rather than the Tampa defendants funding PIJ activity, violent or otherwise.
In a Jan. 31, 1994, telephone conversation between Al-Arian and Bashir Nafi, a PIJ leader who traveled between Tampa, London and Syria, the two worried aloud that there was not enough PIJ money available to keep alive the Tampa think thank, known as World and Islam Studies Enterprise. WISE, through an association with USF, sponsored forums and publications on the Middle East, focusing on the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in Israel.
Nafi: My brother, WISE needs 100 to 150 per year to avoid shutting down. ...
Al-Arian: This 100 to 150 doesn't include salaries. ... You will enter in the 200s.
Nafi and Al-Arian discuss the possibility of getting help from "the club" (Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group) for the PIJ, which, in turn, would help keep WISE open. Nafi concluded that the club is not reliable and they can't count on money.
"The club may change its position," he said.
A few days later, Ramadan Shallah, a WISE director who became head of the PIJ in late 1995, complained to Al-Arian about surviving without money from the PIJ.
"We have no wages for two months. We are here pimping," Shallah said on the phone with Al-Arian.
Al-Arian told him: "We have to endure ... to save every penny and make ends meet for three months. We will borrow, we will starve, we will support each other. ..."
But as the months passed, the PIJ, which had approved Al-Arian's financial plan, had not put it into practice, according to the wiretapped conversations. In a subsequent conversation about the PIJ leadership, former PIJ treasurer Tasir Al-Khatib told Al-Arian, "You are dealing with a bunch of pimps of which Fathi (Shikaki) is president."
Al-Arian said: "Let them hit their heads together. I am out of it and that's it."