Saudi webmaster acquitted

Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a 34-year-old Saudi Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Idaho has been acquitted of charges that he used his computer skills as a webmaster to help Muslim terrorists raise money and recruit followers.

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By  Maddy Reddy Published  June 13, 2004

Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a 34-year-old Saudi Ph.D. candidate in computer science at the University of Idaho has been acquitted of charges he used his computer skills as a webmaster to help Muslim terrorists raise money and recruit followers. Al-Hussayen set up and ran websites that prosecutors said were used to recruit terrorists, raise money and disseminate inflammatory rhetoric. They stated: 'The sites included religious edicts justifying suicide bombings and an invitation to contribute financially to the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas.' After an eight-week trial and seven days of intensive deliberations, a jury deliberated nearly seven days before handing down its verdict in favor of Sami Omar. His personal website, a site created by his wife and friends Sami spent 15 months and 24 days in jail, before he was acquitted over the weekend. He was arrested February 26, 2003, on seven counts of visa fraud and four counts of making false statements to the US government for his work on several Islamic charity websites. The 30 month long, multimillion-dollar federal investigation claimed Al-Hussayen received money from Saudi Arabia and donated money to the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) and other Islamic charities. The transactions were deemed scrutiny because Al-Hussayen, who was a US-based college student, needed US$200,000 for his normal expenses but received an additional US$300000. The Saudi Arabian government and some affluent relatives gave the extra money to him. According to Idaho newspaper reports and AP news wires, Al-Hussayen, a member of a prominent family from Riyadh, has been jailed since his February 2003 arrest, continuing to work toward his doctorate from his cell. His wife and their children returned to Saudi in January this year rather to avoid being deported. The accused webmaster was acquitted on all three terrorism charges, as well as one count of making a false statement and two counts of visa fraud. Jurors could not reach verdicts on three more false-statement counts and five additional visa-fraud counts, and a mistrial was declared on those charges. The prosecution suggested because al-Hussayen received so much money and donated so much of it to the IANA and other charities, he had financial ties to those charities. The financial ties will later be used to explain his alleged terrorist connection. Hussayen’s lawyers argued that he could have and give away as much money as he wants, and do as much charitable work as he wants. Investigators said Al-Hussayen’s work on the websites was a violation of his student visa, and he lied to investigators when he said his sole purpose in entering the US was for academic reasons. He faces multiple charges because he signed documents stating his purpose each time he entered or exited the country. “The message is that the First Amendment is important and meaningful in this country. Al-Hussayen had little to do with the creation of the material posted. And they said the material was protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and was not designed to raise money or recruit extremists,” said David Nevin, lead attorney for Al-Hussayen. The Al-Hussayen vs America case was seen as an important test of a provision of the new Patriot Act, passed in response after 9/11 terrorist attacks states that its a crime to provide expert advice or assistance to terrorists. “The huge number of intercepted e-mails and phone calls, lectures and articles posted on the internet, contracts, financial records and so forth that the prosecution presented in the case showed he was involved in what he was doing. There was a lack of clear-cut evidence that said he was a terrorist, so it was all on inference. It showed he was involved in what he was doing, but it seemed it was pretty innocent what he was doing. As for materials he was accused of posting on the internet, 95% of it was fine, and the stuff that was inflammatory, by the First Amendment, he had the right to do that. I guess the question was, would putting this on web sites cause people to sign up with terrorists?,” said juror John Steger. If found guilty, Al-Hussayen would have faced up to 15 years for each of the three terrorism charges, 25 years on each visa-fraud charge and five years on each false-statement charge. He still faces deportation and will remain in custody until the government announces its plan of action.

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