BOISE, Idaho – A federal judge on Thursday handed a major blow to a Saudi student accused of terrorism, allowing jurors to see inflammatory Web sites that allegedly had been posted from his home computer.
The government claims the Web sites prove that Sami Omar Al-Hussayen (search), a computer science graduate student at the University of Idaho, used his computer skills to foster terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge (search) ruled that the evidentiary value of the Web sites, which contain articles extolling homicide bombings in defense of Islam, outweighed their prejudicial value against Al-Hussayen.
"These exhibits are no doubt prejudicial," Lodge said. But, he added, "the court is not to weigh the evidence," because that is for the jury.
Defense Attorney David Nevin had argued the material was intended to force jurors to infer without solid proof that Al-Hussayen supported ideas that he says the government believes are unacceptable. He then argued advocating such opinions is not a criminal act.
He cited an opinion this year from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said, "Advocacy is pure speech protected by the First Amendment."
But prosecutors argued, and Lodge agreed, the information showed Al-Hussayen knew the material was what encourages people to finance terrorist acts and, in some cases, become terrorists. Authorities said records show the material was posted on the Internet from his home computer.
One of the articles declared that "inferior Jews, the source of defects and shortcomings and the source of evil and depravity, are the most severe enemy of Allah, Islam and its followers."
Another stated that since jihad, or holy war, "is an obligation even if Muslims are killed, then there is nothing greater than getting killed for the sake of jihad."
The government has accused the 34-year-old Al-Hussayen of using his computer skills to turn the Web site of the Islamic Assembly of North America (search) in Michigan into the platform for the Internet network encouraging terror. He is also charged with visa fraud and making false statements for allegedly trying to hide his association with the assembly.
Nevin has acknowledged the relationship with the assembly but has maintained Al-Hussayen was only a volunteer supporting the organization's Islamic outreach programs. Any subversive material posted on the Internet, Nevin said, came from others or was just passed on from other sources by Al-Hussayen.
If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to 240 years in prison. He faces deportation even if his isn't convicted.
U.S. Assistant Attorney David Dietch said expert witnesses will testify information like that provided on the Web sites tied to Al-Hussayen encourages people to support terrorism.
"These are hateful words," Dietch told Lodge. "What does he do? He provides it to millions of people."
Just before the trial recessed until next Monday, government witness Rita Katz acknowledged under cross-examination that she violated provisions of her visa when she moved to the United States from Israel in 1997 and began working before she was allowed. Katz claimed it was a misunderstanding; she was not prosecuted.
Katz, an Iraqi Jew and founder of the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (search) in Washington, D.C., was used by prosecutors to present the articles on homicide bombing to jurors.