By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 22, 2007
A federal judge has extended the contempt citation against a former Florida professor who has refused to testify in the investigation into whether Islamic charities in Northern Virginia were financing terrorist organizations.
Sami al-Arian will remain jailed until at least October under Wednesday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Alexandria, Arian's wife and sources familiar with the decision said yesterday. Nahla al-Arian said Lee issued the decision at a closed hearing and indicated that he thought Arian -- who has served six months on the contempt charge -- still could be persuaded to testify to be reunited with his five children.
Not so, according to his wife.
Nahla al-Arian said her husband, who was acquitted in one of the nation's highest-profile terrorism cases and then pleaded guilty to a single charge, will never break his silence. "My husband is a man of principle, and he will never turn into an informant. We admire him and are proud of him," she said. "In our culture, as Palestinians, if a person becomes an informant for the government, this is very shameful."
A federal jury in Tampa deadlocked in 2005 on nine charges that Arian aided terrorists and acquitted him of eight counts. He then pleaded guilty to one count of supporting a Palestinian terrorist organization. Sentenced to 57 months, including time served, he was expected to be released from prison and deported this year.
But prosecutors are trying to compel Arian to testify in their long-running Northern Virginia investigation, which is focused on a Herndon-based network of Muslim charities, businesses and think tanks. Prosecutors want Arian to reveal what they suspect are his ties to the International Institute of Islamic Thought, a Herndon think tank that is one of the key organizations under investigation, according to court documents and Arian's attorneys.
Arian contends that he has no information that could help the investigation, according to court documents unsealed in Florida, where he was tried on the terrorism charges. He has twice refused to testify before a federal grand jury in Alexandria. Lee's ruling Wednesday means Arian will serve at least nine months for contempt; the maximum is 18 months.
Jonathan Turley, an attorney for Arian, declined to comment on Wednesday's hearing but said the legal team is "continuing to work for the release of Dr. al-Arian, who has now been in prison for almost five years." Turley contended that Arian's plea agreement with Florida prosecutors was conditioned on him not having to cooperate in other investigations.
A federal judge in Tampa rejected Arian's argument in November. That ruling is under appeal.
Federal prosecutors in Alexandria declined to comment yesterday.
Earlier this year, Arian went on a 60-day hunger strike in prison that drew the support of Muslim organizations nationwide. He lost 55 pounds. His wife said he decided to eat again only because his life was in danger.
The Northern Virginia investigation burst into public view in March 2002, when federal agents raided homes and businesses in Herndon and elsewhere in the region.
The searches led to the convictions of two people, including prominent Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, who admitted that he plotted with Libya to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ruler. But no charges have been filed against the principals of the cluster of companies and charities at the center of the investigation, and the charities deny any terrorist ties.
Federal officials have called the probe the nation's largest terrorism-financing investigation. Muslim groups have labeled it a fishing expedition, but law enforcement officials have defended it as highly complicated, involving a complex trail of international transactions among corporations and charitable entities. Law enforcement sources have said that they expect further prosecutions, but the timing or nature of any possible charges remains unclear.