Report jolts Al-Arian's attorneys (8/10)Aug. 10, 2005
St. Petersburg Times
However, the subject in a spring 2005 interview says he didn't receive a letter from the former USF professor.
By Meg Laughlin
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TAMPA - Attorneys for Sami Al-Arian got a big surprise in federal court Tuesday when prosecutors handed them a copy of a 3-month-old FBI report, which the defense hadn't seen before.
It was an FBI agent's interview in Washington, D.C., in early May 2005 with Ismail Al-Shatti, who, according to prosecutor Terry Furr, received a "hand-delivered" letter from Al-Arian in 1995, in Kuwait. But the FBI report quotes Al-Shatti saying he "never received this letter," which asked Al-Shatti for money for the families of dead suicide bombers so future "operations such as these can continue," an apparent reference to a recent suicide attack.
The Al-Arian letter and its delivery were especially important to the prosecution's case because Al-Arian and three other defendants are charged with raising money for terrorist acts in Israel. The letter appeared to be an attempt by Al-Arian to do just that.
But, if he never sent the letter, it loses its punch.
It was seized in a November 1995 FBI raid of Al-Arian's Tampa home and read in court Monday by prosecutors, with no mention of the FBI report that throws it into question. Defense attorneys said Monday that Al-Arian wrote it, then decided not to send it, making it no more than his private thoughts. But prosecutors insisted that, at the very least, it shows Al-Arian's intentions.
Despite Al-Shatti's denial to FBI agents, prosecutors hope another witness will say he "hand-delivered" the letter to him in Kuwait.
Currently in the Orient Road Jail in Hillsborough County is prisoner Abdurahman Alamoudi, who may testify about the letter. Alamoudi, a former American Muslim leader, was charged by federal authorities for plotting with Libyans to assassinate the leader of Saudi Arabia. Last year, he received a 23-year prison sentence in northern Virginia for making illegal business deals with Libya. He was recently brought to the Tampa area to testify in the Al-Arian trial.
Both the New York Times and Washington Post have reported that Alamoudi's sentence will probably be substantially reduced because of his ongoing cooperation with federal authorities. Part of that cooperation may be to corroborate what prosecutor Furr said in his opening statement: that someone "hand-delivered" the letter to Al-Shatti.
If this happens, jurors will have to decide if they believe what Al-Shatti told the FBI or what Alamoudi tells them.
Defense attorneys for Al-Arian asked the federal judge to declare a mistrial because they say prosecutors withheld evidence - the FBI report - important to their defense. But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody declined to do so.
"Neither a tsunami, an earthquake or a hurricane would cause a mistrial in this case because of everything that has gone into getting this far," said Tampa criminal defense attorney John Fitzgibbons, who was a federal prosecutor until 1987.
"But I would think," said Fitzgibbons, "that the defense would want to explore why the government took so long to share the FBI report with them."
Al-Shatti, a Kuwaiti legislator, told FBI agents he had written a similar statement for the U.S. Embassy, when the "issue had come up before" and he hoped the May 5 interview meant the matter was finally over.