Al-Arian to face criminal contempt trial
ALEXANDIRA, Va. – A federal judge ruled Friday that Sami Al-Arian will stand trial in March for criminal contempt.
Al-Arian had requested that the charge be dismissed based on “selective prosecution.”
But, while U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed with Al-Arian that such prosecutions are “rare” and that the facts of his case are “absolutely unique,” the judge said a jury would have to decide if Al-Arian committed a crime.
According to federal prosecutors in Virginia, the criminal contempt charge stems from Al-Arian’s refusal to testify before a grand jury about the actions of a Virginia think tank, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
Over 16 years ago, the think tank gave $50,000 to WISE (World and Islam Studies Enterprise), a former think tank on Middle Eastern issues at the University of South Florida, run by Al-Arian. Federal prosecutors want Al-Arian to testify about the details of that transaction.
But, according to documents filed by Al-Arian’s attorneys, Al-Arian “did cooperate and answer questions on IIIT” for federal prosecutors, which shows, wrote the defense attorneys, that the Virginia prosecutors are “ultimately not interested in IIIT … but want to revisit the Tampa trial.”The Tampa trial ended in December 2005 when a jury acquitted Al-Arian of eight terrorism charges, some related to the finan cial transactions of WISE, and deadlocked on nine other charges, 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal.
At the upcoming criminal contempt trial, said the judge, “the jury will have the flesh on the bones of that case” and be given details.
After the Tampa trial, Al-Arian signed a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of providing immigration services to associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Brinkema said Friday that Al-Arian believed the plea agreement protected him from further testimony, and the criminal contempt jury will also learn about that.
Al-Arian was sentenced to 57 months in prison and was due to be released and deported to Egypt in April 2007, after being incarcerated for more than two years before the Tampa trial began.
But civil contempt charges in Virginia and an immigration order kept him in prison more than a year longer. Then, prosecutors charged him with criminal contempt.
In September, 2008, Brinkema released Al-Arian on bond while she waited to see if the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on whether federal prosecutors in Virginia had violated his plea agreement when they called him to testify before a grand jury.
After the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Brinkema took up the issue of criminal contempt again.
“I can’t believe that after all we’ve been through Sami has to go through another trial,” said his wife, Nahla, as she and her husband left the courthouse.
About 50 people – mostly from Tampa -- packed into the Alexandria courtroom in support of Al-Arian.
“We came because we believe it is time for his ordeal to end,” said Lois Price, a Tampa computer programmer.
The criminal contempt trial is scheduled for March 9.
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