TAMPA, Fla. — A fired college professor acted as a “crime boss” for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a murderous gang that operated like the Mafia, a federal prosecutor told a jury Monday.
Although Sami Al-Arian and three co-defendants are not charged with killing anyone, they conspired to bring about attacks and are just as guilty under the law as the homicide bombers who carried them out, prosecutor Cherie Krigsman said in closing arguments.
“The men of the PIJ you got to know in this case, they didn’t strap bombs to their body,” she said. “They leave that to somebody else.”
Al-Arian, 47, and his co-defendants are accused of using Palestinian charities and educational entities as fundraising fronts for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to help bombings that killed hundreds.
The men deny they supported violence and say they are being persecuted for views that are unpopular in the United States.
Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer engineering teacher who was fired after he was indicted, “was a professor by day and a terrorist by night,” Krigsman said.
Prosecutors built their case around hundreds of pages of transcripts of wiretapped phone calls and faxes intercepted by the FBI from the mid-1990s to about 2003, including discussions about the direction and financing of the PIJ. The participants at times appear to celebrate suicide attacks that killed Israelis and speak glowingly of the Palestinian “martyrs” who carried them out.
Prosecutors said Al-Arian and co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatem Naji Fariz used a think tank and a Palestinian charity in Tampa as fundraising fronts. The men claim the money they raised went to Palestinian charities.
If convicted, they could each face up to life in prison.
Al-Arian’s attorney, William Moffitt, rested Oct. 27 without calling a single witness. He said that prosecutors failed to prove Al-Arian did “anything but speak.”
Krigsman was to complete her closing arguments Tuesday and be followed by Moffitt.