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February 20, 2003

Info on the 8 Islamic Jihad Men Indicted in US Court on Terrorism Charges

Eight people, including four U.S. residents, were charged today in a 50-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Fla. with supporting, financing and relaying messages for the Islamic Jihad.

Those arrested in the United States today were reportedly setting up a terrorist cell at the University of South Florida. They are:

- Al-Arian, the Florida college professor running the Islamic Jihad's U.S. operations. Al-Arian is a native of Kuwait and teaches engineering.

- Sameeh Hammoudeh, 42, born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace, Fla. He also is an instructor at the University of South Florida and administrator at the Islamic Academy of Florida.

-Hatim Naji Fariz, 30, born in Puerto Rico and now living in Spring Hill, Fla. He is a manager at a medical clinic.

-Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 41, a West Bank native now living in Tinley Park, Ill., and owner of a small business.

Four men who live abroad were also charged. It is not clear as yet whether they have been arrested as well. They are:

-Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, 45, a Gaza Strip native and now resident of Damascas, Syria. He is described as the worldwide leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and is a former instructor at the University of South Florida.

-Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, originally from Egypt and now living in Oxfordshire, England. The indictment describes him as the United Kingdom leader of the group.

-Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib, 46, originally from the Gaza Strip and now living in Beirut; described as the treasurer of the organization.

-Abd AL Aziz Awda, 52, born in Israel and now imam of the Al Qassam Mosque in Gaza Strip. The indictment calls him the founder and "spiritual leader" of the group.

Background Information on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Brief Overview: The Palestinian Islamic Jihad originated among militant Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the 1970’s. It is committed to Jihad for the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. The United States - which included the PIJ on its list of terrorist organizations - has been identified as an enemy of the PIJ. The PIJ also opposes moderate Arab governments that it believes have been influenced by Western secularism. The PIJ has killed approximately 150 people in past eight years, and has carried out hundreds of attacks, including the August 9th, 2002 Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem which killed 15 and injured 130 people.

The PIJ's headquarters are based in Damascus, Syria. Until the IDF Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, the PIJ's infrastructure in Jenin was the strongest in the Palestinian Authority territories, mostly due to the massive financial aid it received for its activities from the PIJ leadership in Syria. The PIJ infrastructure suffered a severe blow with the death of the head of the military infrastructure in Jenin, Mahmud Tu'albe (who was involved in multiple terrorist attacks inside Israel), and the arrest of senior operatives.

List of Terror Attacks Carried Out by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad

History: The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami al-Filastini) was founded in 1979-80 by Palestinian students in Egypt, who had split from the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip. The founders were highly influenced by the Islamic revolution in Iran on the one and hand, and the radicalization and militancy of Egyptian Islamic student organizations, on the other.

The founders - Fathi Shqaqi, `Abd al-`Aziz `Odah and Bashir Musa - were disappointed by the supposed moderation of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and what they considered the neglect by the Egyptian Islamists of the priority that should be given to the Palestinian problem. Shqaqi and Musa, therefore, proposed a new ideological program, which became the basis for the new organization. They claimed that the unity of the Islamic world was not a precondition for the liberation of Palestine, but on the contrary, the liberation of Palestine by the Islamic movements was the key to the unification of the Arab and Islamic world. In other words: the Jihad for the liberation of Palestine by Islamic movements will bring upon the expected Jihad for the reconstruction of the greater and one Islamic state.

The admiration of the three Palestinian militants for the Islamic revolution in Iran was at that time unique of its kind in the Arab world and among the Islamic Sunni movements. Not only did they consider the Iranian revolution as a model for the Arab world, but they accepted the principle of "the leadership of the men of religion" (vilayet-i-faqih) although it was a Shi'ite concept. Shqaqi was also the first in the Arab Sunni world to write, already in March 1979, a book glorifying Khomeini and the Iranian revolution, which was banned by the Egyptian authorities.

This group of Palestinian students maintained close relations with radical Islamic Egyptian students, some of whom were involved in the assassination of president Sadat, in October 1981. As a result, the Palestinian Islamic radicals were expelled from Egypt and returned to the Gaza Strip, where they formally began their activity as an Islamic Jihad organization.

The faction was involved in subversive and terrorist activity in the Territories in the 1980s. During the year 1987, prior to the Intifada, it carried out several terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip. In August 1988 the two faction`s leaders, Shqaqi and `Odah, were expelled to Lebanon, where Shqaqi reorganized the faction, maintaining close contacts with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit stationed in Lebanon and with Hizballah. Shqaqi expanded the political connections of the faction and became a prominent member of the new Rejection Front which emerged after the Israeli- Palestinian Oslo agreement, under Syrian influence.

Shqaqi was killed in October 1995 in Malta, allegedly by Israeli agents. His successor is Dr. Ramadan `Abdallah Shalah, who has resided several years in Florida, U.S.A, and moved to Damascus at the beginning of 1996. Shalah has not the charisma and the intellectual and organizational skills as Fathi Shqaqi and this has influenced the organization's position and activity.

The group has been active on the political scene in the Territories, mainly in the Gaza Strip, among students and intellectuals. Until the foundation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the Islamic Jihad groups did not have connections to Hamas, and were regarded even as rivals in the Gaza Strip. Since then, and mainly after Hamas switched to the strategy of suicide terrorist bombings, there was some operational cooperation between the two organizations in carrying out attacks like the one in Beit-Lyd, in February 1995, or in coordinating simultaneous terrorist attacks. Shqaqi 's death undermined the PIJ's position in the Territories and Hamas no longer sees it as a threatening rival.

The group has offices in Beirut, Damascus, Tehran and Khartoum, but its activity is focused in Lebanon, where there are several tens of Palestinian members. It has some influence in the Gaza Strip, mainly in the Islamic University, but not in a way that can endanger the dominant position of Hamas as the leading Islamic Palestinian organization.

During the 1980s several other groups of Palestinian Islamic Jihad were formed, but the main faction which has survived is the group founded by Shqaqi.

(Source: The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya)

Additional background Information

The Islamic Jihad Terror Infrastructure in Jenin and the Role of its Damascus Office

The Islamic Jihad:The Imperative of Holy War (An in-depth analysis of the terrorist group by Boaz Ganor, Excecutive Director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.)