A former college professor was found not guilty yesterday of key charges linking him to a Palestinian terrorist group that allegedly operated an underground cell in Florida, reports th Miami Herald. After deliberating 13 days, a federal jury acquitted Sami Al-Arian, once a computer sciences professor at the University of South Florida, of eight of the 17 charges against him, including a charge that he conspired with other leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad to murder people in Israel. The jury deadlocked on the nine other counts against him, including charges that he aided terrorists. Two other pro-Palestinian activists, were found not guilty of all charges.
After serving 33 months in jail awaiting trial and a verdict, Al-Arian was returned to prison and will remain there until prosecutors decide whether to retry him. The verdict dealt a blow to one of the federal government’s first major tests of the expanded search and surveillance powers authorized by the controversial USA Patriot Act. After more than five months of testimony by nearly 80 witnesses and the presentation of 1,800 faxes, wiretap transcripts, e-mail, and other exhibits, most observers agreed that no single piece of evidence directly linked the defendants to terrorist acts. ”I didn’t think the government showed us clear, definitive evidence,” one female juror said as she walked away from the courthouse. “Let’s just say I couldn’t connect all the dots. There was a lot they didn’t connect.” A male juror who also asked not to be identified said: “The main thing was that the evidence wasn’t all there.”