BOISE — Four fatwas and a controversial lecture that went out over the Internet prove that a University of Idaho graduate student conspired to help terrorists, prosecutors argued Monday.
“A conspiracy has been established,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist told the court. “These four suicide fatwas in and of themselves substantiate the proof of the conspiracy.”
But attorneys for Sami Al-Hussayen strongly disagreed.
“The idea that one commits a crime by publishing these ideas is not correct,” said lead defense attorney David Nevin. “I submit to you that there’s not one shred of evidence to support the proposition that there is a conspiracy here.”
Al-Hussayen faces charges including conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, in part by helping operate and maintain Web sites for various Islamic groups. Prosecutors contend those sites were part of an Internet-based network that helped terrorists raise funds and find recruits.
Each of the four fatwas — religious treatises that were read in part to jurors last week — features a different Islamic cleric debating religious justifications for suicide attacks, although the Quran prohibits suicide. Though the four take differing approaches, all conclude that suicide attacks against Jews in Israel and against Russians in Chechnya are permitted by Islamic law.
The controversial lecture, “The Intifada and the New Tartars,” was given by extremist Saudi Sheik Safar Alhawali about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The graphic three-hour diatribe celebrates the killing of Jews and paints a conspiracy theory that Americans, Jews and Christians are plotting to take over the Middle East. About an hour’s worth of excerpts from the lecture was read to jurors the week before last.
Al-Hussayen, a Saudi national and a doctoral student in computer science when he was arrested in February 2003, has acknowledged volunteering his services to the Islamic Assembly of North America to help maintain its Web sites. He also contributed to the religious outreach group and served on its board.
Prosecutors said Monday they have proved that a conspiracy existed among Al-Hussayen, the Islamic Assembly of North America and its employees. They made that argument to try to persuade the court to begin allowing evidence about Web sites not directly related to Al-Hussayen because they would qualify as statements or actions by “co-conspirators.”
Al-Hussayen is the only person who has been charged. “IANA hasn’t been charged with anything,” Nevin told the court.
The sentiments in the fatwas and the lecture are “everywhere in the Middle East,” Nevin said. “You can find them in bookshops, on television. … We are talking about ideas that are in wide currency.”
But Lindquist said, “Those fatwas are out there as developed and built (for Web sites) by the defendant. There’s the conspiracy. There’s the conspiracy.”
He added, “This isn’t a scholarly exchange of ideas. The texts themselves show the purpose to be recruiting and funding for jihad – murdering civilians – … so that others will participate, so that funding will come in.”
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said he’ll make a decision first thing this morning. The question is whether to allow the prosecution to introduce an array of indirect evidence, including Web sites that may have connections to the Islamic Assembly of North America or its employees but not to Al-Hussayen.
Those include a former subsite of the popular Islamic site www.islamway.com that featured news about Chechnya and another subsite on Palestine. Though the defense argued that those subsites were discontinued after the Islamic Assembly of North America purchased www.islamway.com from its original owner, the prosecution said the assembly still was affiliated. The Palestine subsite included a link to a Web site affiliated with Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, that allowed viewers to donate money, prosecutors said.
That’s the basis for a third terrorism charge that Al-Hussayen faces. He is charged with both conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and providing that support in his Web site work and other activities. He also is charged with conspiring to support Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization, primarily because of that Web site link.
Up to now, inflammatory evidence against Al-Hussayen, including the four fatwas and the lecture, has been allowed in court only with restrictions, with the judge saying that jurors can consider them only for what they say about Al-Hussayen’s knowledge or intent as far as helping terrorists.
Lindquist argued that prosecutors now have proved a conspiracy so they should be able to submit even indirectly related evidence without any restrictions.
Once that question is settled, prosecutors plan to call several internationally known terrorism experts to the stand to testify.
The trial, which began its sixth week Monday, is considerably behind schedule. Originally, the prosecution had planned to spend only three-and-a-half weeks presenting its case. The defense, which expects to take two-and-a-half to three weeks for its case, hasn’t even begun its arguments.
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