May 24, 2006

Palestinian deported after Florida Jihad trial

By Robert Green

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - A co-defendant who was acquitted
of all charges in the Florida terrorism trial of ex-college
professor Sami al-Arian has been deported to the Palestinian
territories, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Federal agents took Sameeh Hammoudeh from a prison near
Tampa on Monday and escorted him to Ramallah in the West Bank.
He had agreed to be deported after pleading guilty to a
separate tax fraud charge.

Hammoudeh's wife and six children were taken to Ramallah in

"The order of deportation has been carried out. Sameeh
Hammoudeh is in Palestinian territory," said Barbara Gonzalez,
a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs

Hammoudeh, al-Arian and two other men were arrested in
February 2003 on charges they provided money and support for
the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, which the United States
lists as a terrorist organization and blames for more than 100
deaths in Israel.

The case against al-Arian was considered an important test
of the U.S. government's surveillance powers, which were
strengthened after the September 11 attacks. It was built on
thousands of hours of wiretapped phone calls and intercepted
e-mails gathered over a decade.

Hammoudeh was acquitted of all 10 charges against him after
a six-month trial that ended in December.

Al-Arian, fired from his job at the University of South
Florida after his arrest, was acquitted at the trial of eight
of the 17 charges against him and the jury deadlocked on the
other nine.

In April, al-Arian pleaded guilty to one count of
conspiracy to help the Islamic Jihad, and the other eight
charges were dropped. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison
with credit for the 38 months he had already served, and is to
be deported when he finishes his sentence.

Co-defendant Ghassan Ballut was acquitted on all 26 counts
against him and returned to his home near Chicago.

The fourth defendant, Hatem Fariz, was acquitted on 25 of
the 33 charges against him. He faces retrial on the remaining
eight charges in August unless he also agrees to a plea deal
with the government.