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Witness Is Silent in Terror Probe

Ex-Pro­fes­sor Says Grand Jury Tes­ti­mo­ny Would Endan­ger Him

by Jer­ry Markon

A poten­tial­ly key wit­ness has refused to tes­ti­fy in the long-run­ning inves­ti­ga­tion into whether Islam­ic char­i­ties in North­ern Vir­ginia were financ­ing ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions, accord­ing to recent­ly unsealed court doc­u­ments.

For­mer Flori­da pro­fes­sor Sami al-Ari­an declined to answer ques­tions before a fed­er­al grand jury in Alexan­dria last month, accord­ing to doc­u­ments unsealed in fed­er­al court in Tam­pa. Ari­an, who was acquit­ted in one of the nation’s high­est-pro­file ter­ror­ism cas­es but then plead­ed guilty to a sin­gle charge, believes his life would be in dan­ger if he tes­ti­fied, his attor­neys told a judge.

Pros­e­cu­tors want Ari­an to reveal what they believe are his ties to the Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute of Islam­ic Thought, or IIIT, a Hern­don think tank that is one of the key orga­ni­za­tions under inves­ti­ga­tion. The probe, which fed­er­al offi­cials have called the nation’s largest ter­ror­ism-financ­ing inves­ti­ga­tion, is focused on a Hern­don-based net­work of Mus­lim char­i­ties, busi­ness­es and think tanks. The Mus­lim char­i­ties deny any ter­ror­ist ties.

A fed­er­al jury in Tam­pa dead­locked last year on nine charges that Ari­an aid­ed ter­ror­ists and acquit­ted him of eight oth­er counts. He then plead­ed guilty to one count of sup­port­ing Pales­tin­ian Islam­ic Jihad and was sen­tenced to 57 months in prison. With time already served, he was expect­ed to be released from prison and deport­ed next year.

But Ari­an is now like­ly to be held in con­tempt by a fed­er­al judge in Alexan­dria for refus­ing to tes­ti­fy before the grand jury, his lawyers said last week at a court hear­ing in Tam­pa, accord­ing to a tran­script. That could add as much as 18 months to his prison term unless he relents and tes­ti­fies. He is unlike­ly to do so, his attor­neys said.

Pros­e­cu­tors declined to com­ment yes­ter­day, and two attor­neys for Ari­an did not return tele­phone calls.

The inves­ti­ga­tion burst into pub­lic view more than four years ago when fed­er­al agents swarmed into homes and busi­ness­es in Hern­don and else­where in North­ern Vir­ginia. They cart­ed away 500 box­es of doc­u­ments — from some of the most estab­lished Islam­ic orga­ni­za­tions in the Unit­ed States — that they believed con­tained evi­dence of an inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism financ­ing net­work.

The March 2002 search­es have led to the con­vic­tions of two peo­ple, includ­ing promi­nent Mus­lim activist Abdu­rah­man Alam­ou­di, who admit­ted that he plot­ted with Libya to assas­si­nate the Sau­di ruler.

No charges have been filed against the prin­ci­pals of the Hern­don-based clus­ter of com­pa­nies and char­i­ties that are at the cen­ter of the inves­ti­ga­tion, and their attor­neys and some Mus­lims have labeled the raids a fish­ing expe­di­tion.

Pros­e­cu­tors in the U.S. attor­ney’s office in Alexan­dria have strong­ly defend­ed the raids, say­ing dur­ing a 2004 court hear­ing that they would file charges against some or all of the Hern­don-based net­work, pos­si­bly under rack­e­teer­ing statutes once used to tar­get the Mafia.

The inves­ti­ga­tion has spanned near­ly half a decade, accord­ing to court doc­u­ments and law enforce­ment offi­cials, because it involves a com­plex trail of inter­na­tion­al trans­ac­tions between cor­po­ra­tions and relat­ed char­i­ta­ble enti­ties.

The gov­ern­ment believes Ari­an could help untan­gle the mon­ey trail, court doc­u­ments indi­cate. In an affi­davit filed in sup­port of the search war­rants and unsealed in 2003, Home­land Secu­ri­ty agent David Kane laid out alleged ties between Ari­an and IIIT, writ­ing that IIIT was once the largest con­trib­u­tor to what he called a Pales­tin­ian Islam­ic Jihad front group run by Ari­an.

Ari­an con­tends that he has no infor­ma­tion that could help the inves­ti­ga­tion and that any ties between him and IIIT are more than a decade old, accord­ing to the doc­u­ments unsealed in Flori­da. Ari­an refused to tes­ti­fy in Alexan­dria on Oct. 19, and his attor­neys tried to quash the sub­poe­na. They argued that it vio­lat­ed his plea agree­ment with Flori­da pros­e­cu­tors because Ari­an made it clear to pros­e­cu­tors before he agreed to plead guilty that he would not coop­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment. A fed­er­al judge in Flori­da reject­ed that argu­ment last week.


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