TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A former professor at a Florida university was a fundraising powerhouse for pro-Palestinian terrorists who committed scores of suicide attacks in Israel, a prosecutor said yesterday as the man’s trial began.
Sami Al-Arian was at one time “the most powerful man in the world” of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, federal prosecutor Walter E. Furr III told jurors in his opening statement.
Mr. Furr described the charge that the 47-year-old Mr. al-Arian and three co-defendants were involved in soliciting financial support for families of suicide bombers, getting money to PIJ headquarters in Syria and spreading word that the PIJ was responsible for attacks.
“These are the managers. These are the guys who ran the organization,” Mr. Furr said. He described the defendants and other key PIJ figures as “an elitist group of intellectuals” far above those who strapped on bombs and carried out the attacks.
Mr. al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer science instructor who was fired after his arrest, has been in jail more than two years. He shook his head from side to side at times as Mr. Furr spoke.
Relatives watched from the courtroom gallery, and supporters staged a lunchtime rally outside the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa.
In his opening statement, Mr. al-Arian’s attorney, William Moffitt, characterized him as a scholar and political activist who spoke out with strong words against Israel but committed no crimes.
“The evidence will show that this case is about Dr. Al-Arian’s right to speak, your right to hear him and the attempt of the powerful to silence him,” Mr. Moffitt told jurors.
The trial resumes today with opening statements from the other three defense attorneys.