Former Fla. Professor Indicted

As Terrorist Group Leader

The Justice Department 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 in Tampa, Sami Al-Arian and seven other people, including three Muslim activists arrested Thursday 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. 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 the group.

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.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said 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.

Al-Arian's lawyer, Nicholas Matassini, called the charges "a work of fiction."

-- John Mintz

Moroccan Man Is Convicted

Of Aiding in Sept. 11 Attacks

A German court returned the first verdict in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, convicting a Moroccan man of more than 3,000 counts of accessory to murder for helping the Hamburg-based al Qaeda cell that led the attacks.

Mounir Motassadeq, 28, a veteran of one of Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan and admitted close friend of key hijacker Mohamed Atta, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum allowed under German law. He was also convicted of membership in a terrorist organization.

Motassadeq "knew about the preparations for the attack and supported the planning," said Judge Albrecht Mentz, who headed a panel of five judges that heard the case.

Under German sentencing guidelines, Motassadeq could be released in 10 years, at which time he is likely to be immediately deported to Morocco, according to German officials.

-- Peter Finn

South Korea Plays Down

North Korea Armistice Threat

North Korea threatened to abandon the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. But South Korean officials shrugged off the threat, saying the dispute over North Korea's nuclear program is not as dangerous as some in Washington believe.

"I believe the danger of war on the Korean Peninsula is slight -- in fact, nonexistent," President Kim Dae Jung told his cabinet, according to a statement from his office. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the threat would "only serve to hurt, isolate and move North Korea backward." North Korea said it would have no option but to abandon the armistice if the United States imposed sanctions, such as a naval blockade, and continued what the statement called plans to build up forces for a preemptive attack on the North.

The U.N. Security Council is due to take up North Korea's declaration that it has withdrawn from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The council has the authority to impose sanctions.

-- Doug Struck and Joohee Cho

Trade Deficit Hits Record,

Dampening Economic Growth

The nation's trade deficit soared to records of $44.2 billion in December and $435.2 billion for all of 2002, putting a significant damper on U.S. economic growth last year, the Commerce Department reported.

A combination of increasing imports and falling exports clipped more than half a percentage point off the 2.4 percent increase in U.S. gross domestic product last year, after adjustment for inflation. Meanwhile, the Labor Department said its index of producer prices for finished goods shot up 1.6 percent last month, the largest monthly increase in a dozen years. The price increases were much larger and more widespread than analysts expected. Surging crude oil costs did the most damage, with gasoline prices up 13.7 percent and home heating oil prices 19.7 percent higher.

But the unusually large monthly increase followed two months of small declines in producer prices, and the index was up a relatively modest 2.8 percent from a year ago. The higher producer prices did not immediately translate into higher consumer prices, which rose 0.3 percent last month. But when gasoline and home heating oil prices were factored out, consumer prices inched up only 0.1 percent.

Analysts predicted rising energy costs would not trigger a broad increase in inflation.

-- John M. Berry

TSA Will Soon Start Training

Airline Pilots to Carry Guns

In the first detailed plan for arming commercial airline pilots, the federal government said that it will soon begin training that would allow a limited number of pilots to carry holstered handguns while flying.

A task force of the Transportation Security Administration, charged with developing a program to arm pilots, recommended that pilots undergo extensive psychological and medical background checks and attend five days of classroom and firearms training before being issued a gun. The panel also suggested pilots carry the guns in a lockbox through the airport to the aircraft, and that they not be authorized to use the weapons outside the cockpit.

TSA chief James M. Loy is not likely to make major changes to the group's recommendations. The task force was led by TSA officials and included pilots, airline representatives, and other federal security officials. Loy is required by Congress to make a final decision about the program by Tuesday.

-- Sara Kehaulani Goo