Sami Omar Al-Hussayen was, in fact, affiliated with the Islamic Assembly of North America and with two Saudi sheikhs, his defense attorneys said in their opening statements this morning - but not illegally.
“Sami was not an employee of this organization - he volunteered, and he’s allowed to volunteer,” attorney David Nevin told the court.
Nevin said IANA is a legitimate, 501c3 charity dedicated to education about Islam. It’s distributed 25,000 copies of the Koran, for example.
Al-Hussayen, who comes from a prominent Saudi family, persuaded his great-uncle to donate more than $100,000 toward an IANA project to start a radio station in the Chicago and Detroit areas, Nevin said, and also put in more than $20,000 of his own money. When the radio station proved too expensive to start up, Al-Hussayen donated the money toward other IANA efforts including day-to-day operations and an Internet radio broadcast run a few hours a day from Austin, Texas.
Al-Hussayen’s great-uncle who donated the money is the president of the two holy mosques at Mecca and Medina, Nevin said. He’s also chairing a “national dialogue” in Saudi Arabia on religious issues in which one of the sheikhs is participating.
Nevin said Al-Hussayen served on IANA’s board and helped maintain its various web sites, drawing on his computer expertise, but didn’t publish articles on them himself. And he said the computer science graduate student and devout Muslim supports Muslims who are fighting in Chechnya and Palestine, but doesn’t support terrorism, suicide, or attacks on innocents, because they’re against his religious views.
“This is America, and in America you have the right to express an opinion,” Nevin told the court. “Sami is not an angry Islamic fundamentalist - that’s not who he is.”