Florida court summons 100 Israelis to testify in Islamic Jihad terror trial

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The Independent US

Some 100 Israelis - survivors, witnesses and investigators of Islamic terror attacks in their own country - will travel to Florida next month to give evidence in what is being billed as the most important terror trial in the US since 11 September 2001.

Some 100 Israelis - survivors, witnesses and investigators of Islamic terror attacks in their own country - will travel to Florida next month to give evidence in what is being billed as the most important terror trial in the US since 11 September 2001.

In the dock at the Tampa court will be four Arab-Americans, headed by Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor of computer engineering.

He is accused of being a member of the Islamic Jihad radical group, and of running a fund-raising operation. This is said to have helped finance a series of terrorist attacks in which 100 people died, in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel itself. The case is mainly based on intercepted telephone calls, faxes and other documents gathered by FBI foreign intelligence agents, starting as long ago as 1984.

The four defendants face a 53-count, 118-page indictment on charges including racketeering, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.

Five other men have been indicted but are not in custody. Jury selection began this week for the trial, which is scheduled to open on 8 June and likely to last several months.

The array of witnesses is unprecedented in a case of this kind here. Among them are survivors of attacks, victims' relatives, police and emergency medical workers who rushed to the bloody aftermath of an attack, some of them to collect the fragments of flesh and bone left after an explosion.

All of them, in one way or another, have been on the receiving end of terrorism. The aim, prosecutors say, is to allow an American jury to review not just abstract evidence of alleged terrorist fundraising, but to understand its concrete and gruesome end-product - to see "what terror looks like".

Mr Arian and his associates are alleged to have used an Islamic academic think-tank and a Palestinian charity founded by Mr Arian as fund-raising fronts for Islamic Jihad, which is on a State Department list of terrorist organisations.

The defence is expected to argue that Mr Arian was a significant figure in the Arab-American establishment, who knew US politicians as illustrious as the former president Bill Clinton and his successor George Bush, despite the fact he was under investigation for such serious offences. Successful prosecution of the case is highly important for the credibility of US legal efforts to deal with terrorism. The case of Zacharias Moussaoui, the sole person charged in connection with the 11 September attacks, long teetered on the brink of farce before Moussaoui finally pleaded guilty to some offences on 22 April. But his conviction throws little new light on al-Qa'ida's detailed planning for the attacks.

The first major terrorist case since the 11 September hijackings - ending in the 2003 conviction of four north African immigrants allegedly part of a Detroit terror cell - was thrown out the following year amid accusations of prosecutorial misconduct. The trial was hailed by the Bush administration as a major victory in the "war on terror". But the convictions were overturned because documents that could have helped the defence were not handed over by the government as required. This week the Justice Department prosecutor involved resigned.

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