The Muslim imam who gave a closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention in Boston also served as a character witness to Sami al-Arian, the Florida professor indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on 50 counts of terror-related charges.

On the second day of the Democratic National Convention, Imam Yahya Hendi said the closing prayer of the night with some verses from the Quran.

Yet, last July, the 9-11 commission heard testimony from terrorism expert Steven Emerson that Hendi, one of the top Islamic clerics in the U.S., backed al-Arian – head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in North America.

On Feb. 20, 2003, the Justice Department released a 50-count, 121-page federal indictment of al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor who’s awaiting trial on charges of funneling money and support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Al-Arian’s close ties to both PIJ and Hamas go back to at least 1995. Al-Arian used a group he founded, the Islamic Committee for Palestine, to plead for funds for PIJ and Hamas.

Conferences organized by ICP featured Islamic Jihad founder Abdel Aziz-Odeh, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers), leading Hamas official Mohammed Sakr and high-ranking Sudanese terrorist Hassan Turabi, a close ally of Osama bin Laden.

The 50-count indictment also charges al-Arian, two other former and current instructors at USF and five other individuals of operating a criminal racketeering enterprise that provided funding and organization for the global terror ring responsible for the deaths of 100 people in and around Israel, including two Americans.

In addition to criminal racketeering, al-Arian and the seven others are charged with conspiracy to kill and maim people abroad; conspiracy to provide material support to the terrorist group; extortion; perjury; mail and wire fraud; obstruction of justice; and attempting to procure citizenship or naturalization unlawfully to help terrorists.

If convicted, the men could face life in prison.

Al-Arian and the seven alleged co-conspirators are described as having set up a terror cell at USF.

In the 1980s, al-Arian founded ICP, which federal authorities now say has been funneling money and providing organizational support to Islamic Jihad since 1984.

In conjunction with his brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, al-Arian also founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, or WISE, a now-defunct Islamic think tank at USF.

Federal agents raided the think tank, the charity and al-Arian’s home and office at USF in 1995. They seized tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which al-Arian proclaims “Death to Israel” and “Let us damn America,” in Arabic.

Al-Najjar was arrested in November 2001 on suspicion of ties to terrorists and was deported last August.

Amid the federal investigation into his suspected association with terrorist organizations, USF suspended al-Arian with pay in December 2001 and banned him from the campus.

Federal agents also arrested another USF professor, 42-year-old Sameeh Hammoudeh.

Also indicted but still at large overseas, is former USF instructor Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. He served as the executive director of al-Arian’s charity and recently became the head of the worldwide Islamic Jihad. Shallah lives in Damascus, Syria.

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