Monday, February 17, 2003

Professor Indicted as Terrorist Leader

By John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 21, 2003; Page A01

The Justice Department yesterday accused a former Florida university professor of conspiracy to commit murder via suicide attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories, saying he has secretly been a top leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization for years.

In a 50-count indictment unsealed yesterday in Tampa, Sami Al-Arian and seven other people, including three Muslim activists arrested yesterday in this country and several top officials of Islamic Jihad still at large abroad, also were charged with crimes ranging from racketeering to money laundering. Al-Arian was arrested at his suburban Tampa home yesterday.

Among those charged were Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, a close associate of Al-Arian's in Tampa during the 1990s who now heads Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Syria; and Abd Al Aziz Awda, a founder and spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad.

Federal agents have spent a decade developing a case against Al-Arian, who was relieved of his duties as a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2001. His case is one of the longest-running probes into alleged terrorist activities in U.S. history.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said at a news conference yesterday that changes in U.S. law under the USA Patriot Act -- anti-terrorism legislation enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- allowed authorities to make the criminal case against Al-Arian. That law removed longstanding legal barriers to bringing information gathered in classified national security investigations into criminal courts.

The 120-page indictment relies heavily on dozens of telephone calls and faxes between Al-Arian and other alleged Islamic Jihad officials that were intercepted in investigations secretly approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, officials said.

"The new provisions in the USA Patriot Act proved to be the critical factor in putting together this case," said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst and now a researcher with the private Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "The quality and quantity of the government's evidence shows that Al-Arian was deeply involved in terrorist activity, and that this is not a case of the government silencing an academic it disagrees with, as he has claimed."

Emerging from a preliminary court hearing in federal court in Tampa yesterday, Al-Arian's lawyer, Nicholas Matassini, said, "He's a political prisoner right now as we speak." Matassini added that the indictment is "a work of fiction."

Al-Arian and his many supporters in the Muslim and civil liberties communities have strenuously asserted his innocence for years, saying investigators were carrying out an anti-Islamic agenda that targeted a critic of U.S. policy in Israel.

Al-Arian has consistently denied any substantive tie to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was designated a terrorist group by the U.S. government in 1995. Some supporters say his ouster from the University of South Florida violated academic freedoms.

Shallah, interviewed in Damascus yesterday by the Qatar-based satellite television station al-Jazeera, contended that Al-Arian "is not a member of the Islamic Jihad . . . and there is no relation between him and us."

David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who for years represented Al-Arian's brother-in-law in a case closely related to Al-Arian's, said that while the indictment "contains a tremendous amount of information showing Al-Arian" was involved in Islamic Jihad finances, "he was doing so at a time when it was perfectly legal'' -- before 1995. That was when Congress passed a law prohibiting Americans from fundraising for designated terrorist groups.

"After 1995, the evidence looks rather sparse," Cole said. "It doesn't say Sami Al-Arian directed specific terrorist activities."

Legal experts said the prosecutors' use of the racketeering law allowed them to cite actions Al-Arian and his co-defendants allegedly engaged in well before 1995 -- in this case back to 1984 -- because racketeering cases allow authorities to sweep in any activities related to a core criminal undertaking.

The indictment contends that al-Arian has been one of the leading officials of Islamic Jihad since the 1980s, and has served as secretary of its "Shura Council," or top governing body.

Citing the intercepted phone calls and faxes, as well as documents seized from offices of Al-Arian and his associates in Tampa in a court-authorized search eight years ago, the indictment outlines alleged activities over many years. These include managing Islamic Jihad's worldwide finances, dispatching funds to the terrorist group and relaying messages among its top leaders, according to the indictment.

In some of the conversations and faxes, Al-Arian also allegedly praised a number of Islamic Jihad's suicide bombings, kidnappings, drive-by shootings and other operations.

In November 1994, the same day an explosives-carrying Palestinian youth blew himself up in Gaza -- killing three Israeli soldiers and wounding six members of a Palestinian family -- Al-Arian "asked that God bless the efforts of the PIJ and accept their 'martyrs,' and urged PIJ members to be cautious and alert," the indictment said.

Most of the victims were Israelis. But two U.S. citizens were killed in the Islamic Jihad suicide bombings: Alisa Flatow, 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, 16.

Flatow, then a junior at Brandeis University, died in a 1995 bus bombing in the Gaza Strip. Her father, Stephen Flatow of West Orange, N.J., told the Associated Press yesterday that "this demonstrates the old saw about the wheels of justice -- they grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine."

Al-Arian and the other defendants also raised and sent money to support the families of Islamic Jihad "martyrs" who committed suicide bombings, the indictment said. Federal officials also charge that the defendants disseminated a number of Islamic Jihad's claims of responsibility for terrorist attacks on Israelis, and raised funds in the United States for "violent jihad."

The indictment also quotes from conversations and faxes during the mid-1990s in which al-Arian tries to settle squabbles among top Islamic Jihad officials over who controlled the group's finances. U.S. officials have said for years that Iran is Islamic Jihad's main financier, and the indictment describes how Iranian officials were upset by Islamic Jihad operatives' apparent failure to account for much of the money.

"The government basically makes the case that Al-Arian was the chief financial officer of PIJ worldwide," said researcher Steven Emerson, who has tracked Al-Arian for a decade.

A written Islamic Jihad "manifesto" seized by federal agents in 1995 from the campus offices of an anti-Israel activist group run by Al-Arian said the group's bedrock principles included "the rejection of any peaceful solution for the Palestinian cause, and the affirmation of the Jihad solution and the martyrdom style as the only choice for liberation," the indictment said.

"The Manifesto further stated that one of the PIJ's specific goals was to create a situation of terror, instability and panic," the indictment continued.

Other documents removed from the offices of two groups run by Al-Arian -- the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, and the Islamic Committee for Palestine -- included the wills of three Islamic Jihad members who died committing a terrorist act, the indictment said. The wills indicated that the men intended to commit a violent suicide act for the Islamic Jihad, it added.

Al-Arian's case has been linked for years with the government's long-running investigation of his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, who was jailed for three years on evidence not made available to him or his attorney. Al-Najjar was deported to Lebanon last year.

Friday, February 14, 2003

House Passes New Welfare Reforms

WASHINGTON — Keeping a pledge to require more work from welfare recipients, House Republicans passed a plan Thursday that would also give hundreds of millions of dollars to programs promoting marriage.

The Republican plan, passed on a 230-192 vote, mirrors a plan first put forth by President Bush as an improvement to the 1996 law deemed a success by both parties.

"A check in the mail every month won't teach responsibility. It won't build confidence," said Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio.

But Democrats say the new rules, including one that requires 70 percent of recipients to work 40 hours a week by 2007, demand too much from the poorest Americans.

"Too many people are drowning in a sea of poverty," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. "Welfare, to work, should not merely toss the poorest Americans a life preserver to help them float along."

The bill keeps certain provisions of the 1996 welfare overhaul, including limiting people to five years of benefits over their lifetimes and banning aid programs for legal immigrants.

It also continues to give states $16.5 billion each year for welfare-to-work programs and increases spending on child care.

But unlike the earlier bill, recipients who work three days a week in regular jobs or government-created workfare positions and train or receive counseling during the other two days will no longer be allowed to use the time for vocational education classes.

Studies find that most people who have left welfare are working, earning more than they received from the government but not enough to escape poverty. Democrats say that with the struggling economy, people need more help in training and child care, and legal immigrants should be entitled to some of the aid.

The bill includes up to $300 million per year for experiments promoting marriage, as well as another $50 million for programs that promote abstinence from sex until marriage and don't discuss contraception.

Both programs have attracted strong opposition, with opponents saying neither has been proven effective. Some worry the marriage program could push people into bad marriages.

House Democrats, who unsuccessfully tried to stop the bill from moving to a floor vote without a committee vote, voiced few complaints about the marriage and abstinence programs, instead concentrating on the central issues of welfare. Two Democratic alternatives failed and Democrats offered few amendments.

One bill that Republicans defeated would have restored benefits to legal immigrants and allowed more education, training and child care benefits. Another version -- offered in memory of the late Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii -- would have offered even more cash to those programs and more money for states. It also would have let states continue to pay benefits to people beyond the five-year limit as long as they were complying with welfare rules.

Since peaking in 1994, the number of families receiving monthly welfare checks has fallen by nearly 60 percent. The Bush administration said Thursday that the national total continued to fall through September, albeit by a tiny amount.

At the same time, the rolls are rising in more than half the states. And data released this week found that after several years on the rise, the portion of poor children with working parents fell in 2001.

The GOP bill matches one approved by the House last year, but which died in the Senate. The 1996 law, which expired last fall, has been extended several times to give Congress more time to act. The Senate has not yet touched welfare reform legislation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

U.S. May Seek Wider Anti-Terror Powers

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 8, 2003; Page A01

The Justice Department is considering legislative proposals that would significantly expand the federal government's power to investigate, detain and punish suspected terrorists in secret and without court supervision, according to a preliminary draft of the bill disclosed yesterday.

The draft, a potential successor to the Patriot Act that passed Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would authorize the Justice Department to conduct clandestine searches or eavesdrop on any suspected terrorist or foreign agent for 15 days after the beginning of a military conflict or "national emergency," rather than after a formal declaration of war, as current law provides. It would also permit wiretaps of U.S. citizens in terrorism cases for longer periods and with less court oversight than now permitted; and allow the department to collect a DNA-sample database from both convicted and suspected terrorists.

Under the draft, the government could declare individuals, not just groups, "foreign powers" subject to clandestine surveillance under looser standards than would apply in criminal cases, and it would permit such surveillance against a U.S. citizen suspected of spying for a foreign power, even if the alleged suspicious conduct was not itself criminal.

Taken as a whole, the proposals would constitute a far-reaching invitation to Congress to ratify the Bush administration's get-tough legal approach to the war on terrorism. The Jan. 9 document, labeled "confidential -- not for distribution" and titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, was posted on the Internet by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based nonprofit organization.

Civil liberties advocates immediately expressed alarm about the draft.

"There are some truly breathtaking provisions here. In some respects it is bolder even than the Patriot Act," said Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

"It raises a wide range of very troubling questions that deserve a lot of thoughtful debate and attention," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor.

The Justice Department declined to comment specifically on the proposals, but did not dispute the authenticity of the draft, which is being developed in the Office of Legal Policy.

"We are continually considering anti-terrorism measures and would be derelict if we were not doing so," Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said in a statement. "The Department's deliberations are always undertaken with the strongest commitment to our Constitution and civil liberties.

"During our internal deliberations, many ideas are considered, some are discarded and new ideas emerge in the process along with numerous discussion drafts. Department staff have not presented any final proposals to either the Attorney General or the White House. It would be premature to speculate on any future decisions, particularly ideas or proposals that are still being discussed at staff levels."

Democratic aides in Congress grumbled privately that the Bush administration's proposals are timed to take advantage of the Republican takeover of the Senate, and that the administration has brushed aside inquiries about its deliberations until now.

At an Oct. 9 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) asked Justice Department official Alice Fisher to "describe what efforts are being made within the department to broaden the powers of the USA Patriot Act."

Fisher replied that officials "are still studying that."

The Center for Public Integrity's Web site suggests that a routing slip attached to the proposal indicates that it was sent to Vice President Cheney and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Jan. 10.

Comstock said that neither man had been sent the document.

The proposal also contains language that would specifically exempt the names of persons who are detained in connection with terrorism investigations from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, a position similar to what the Bush administration has asserted in several court cases challenging its policy of closing immigration hearings for terror suspects.

And the proposal would make it easier for the government to strip U.S. citizens of their citizenship if they serve in a foreign enemy army or terrorist group. Under current law, such service must be done with clear intent to renounce U.S. citizenship. The proposal would make service in a foreign army or terrorist group, such as John Walker Lindh's assistance to the Taliban, evidence of intent to renounce U.S. citizenship that the citizen would then have to rebut.