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Friday, June 17, 2005

 

Show Trial Continues in Tampa

Dear Editor,

Any child 's suffering and death is a tragedy and a crime- as is the fact that Palestinian children starve while well fed Israeli solders torment their families day and night. 57 years and counting and Israel still refuses to respect international law and the Palestinians basic human rights on multiple counts- including but not limited to full respect for the Palestinian refugees inalienable right of return as specified by U.N/ resolution 194 from 1948.

The US Government offering up the jury in a southern courtroom a gripping live docu-drama specifically geared to inspire racist reactions would be something I'd expert from the days when a very racist America felt comfortable lynching blacks- I thought those days long gone but I guess not thanks to a foreign country's intentional interference with this grand experiment we call democracy.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab

Jun 16, 2:53 PM EDT

Witness describes bus bombing in professor's terrorism trial

By MITCH STACY
Associated Press Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Kesari Ruza said that at first she didn't know exactly what happened to the bus that day in 1995, but it was immediately clear that something terrible had happened to her friend, Alisa Flatow, a fellow American student who was studying in Israel.

Ruza, testifying Thursday in the federal terrorism conspiracy trial of fired university professor Sami Al-Arian, described how she, along with Flatow and another American student, boarded a bus heading for a beach resort on the Gaza Strip on April 9, 1995. Sitting next to Flatow right behind the driver, she dozed off along the way and was jolted awake by chaos.

At the Gaza settlement of Kfar Darom, a suicide bomber drove a van loaded with explosives into the bus. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the group Al-Arian is accused of supporting, later claimed responsibility.

"I remember hearing some kind of sound that woke me up," testified Ruza, now a New York City attorney. "As soon as I woke up, Alisa's head kind of fell toward me. ... Her eyes were rolled back in her head and her hands were sort of curled in."

The 20-year-old Flatow suffered a severe head injury and died the next day at a Jerusalem hospital. Seven other people also perished and 40 were injured.

The trial of Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida computer engineering professor, and three other defendants on charges that they raised money in America and supported the mission of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad took an emotional turn at the end of its second week with the testimony of Ruza and a tearful Stephen Flatow, who told of rushing to Israel to find his brain-dead daughter being kept alive by a respirator.

Jurors, some of whom have nodded off during mostly mundane testimony so far in the trial, intently listened to the witnesses and watched a 10-minute amateur video shot at the scene of the bus bombing. The images show gun-toting Israeli soldiers watching over a chaotic scene of wounded people on the ground outside the bus with blown-out windows. Flatow, wearing a long denim skirt and white T-shirt, is visible on the ground getting medical care.

"There was blood everywhere," Ruza testified in a clear, steady voice. "There was blood on us, blood on our bags."

Prosecutors are attempting to link Al-Arian and the other defendants to such attacks by the PIJ, a State Department-listed terrorist organization blamed for more than 100 deaths in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The men deny any connection to the PIJ and say they are being persecuted for their unpopular pro-Palestinian beliefs.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Al-Arian attorney William Moffitt repeated his contention that his client had nothing to do with the bombing, directly or indirectly.

"I've always said it's not Mr. Al-Arian's fault, and nothing that happened in the courtroom today changes that," Moffitt said.

Before Ruza was called to the stand Thursday, Stephen Flatow of West Orange, N.J., testified that he was driving to synagogue when he heard the bus attack described on the car radio. He had talked to his daughter, a 1992 high school graduate who was studying at a Jewish women's seminary, on the phone the night before.

"My heart sank because I knew Alisa was in trouble," he said.

He eventually got in touch with the State Department and got a flight to Jerusalem. He found his daughter in the intensive care unit with bandages on her head and her long, dark hair shaved off. He took her hand and talked to her, thinking she might respond like on so many TV shows he had seen where people are in the hospital.

"When I let go of Alisa's hand, it just fell limp by the side of the bed," he said, his voice racked with emotion. He told how he had the respirator removed and, after calling his wife, decided to donate his daughter's organs.

Al-Arian and the his co-defendants listened to Ruza and Stephen Flatow without expression. Neither witness made eye contact with the defendants, who are named in a 53-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering, conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists. Five other men have been indicted but have not been arrested.

Prosecutors allege the men used an Islamic academic think tank, a Palestinian charity and an Islamic school founded by Al-Arian as fundraising fronts for the PIJ.

The government's case is anchored to a decade of wiretapped telephone calls and faxes beginning in late 1993 or early 1994, as well as letters, financial records, pamphlets, photos, video tapes and other evidence seized in searches.

Also Thursday, FBI agents testified about items seized during various searches of the defendants' homes and offices. Also, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer testified that Al-Arian failed to list any connections to pro-Palestinian groups on his 1993 application for U.S. citizenship.

The trial, which is expected to last at least six months, resumes Tuesday.

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