Feds: Tampa Central to Islamic Jihad Group

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (search), a terrorist group responsible for scores of killings in bomb attacks in Israel, once had 40 percent of its overall leadership operating out of a cell in Tampa, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

The Tampa cell was primarily responsible for raising money and serving as a communications center for the Islamic Jihad during the mid-1990s, Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Furr told a judge during a pretrial hearing for former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian (search) and three other men.

"This is an elitist, little group of people, all highly educated, trying to convince people to go kill themselves on their behalf," Furr said.

Al-Arian and his co-defendants are scheduled for trial June 6. They could get life in prison if convicted on charges that include racketeering, providing material support to terrorists and money laundering.

The hearing was held to determine what sort of evidence the government may use at the trial. The defense attorneys have argued, among other things, that some of the terrorism allegations are hearsay and cannot be directly linked to the defendants.

U.S. District Judge James Moody did not immediately rule.

Furr said Tampa was so central to the terrorist group's organization that at times when Islamic Jihad members in different countries could not communicate with each other, three-way telephone calls would be placed through Tampa.

The prosecutor said money raised in Tampa by the men was sent to the families of suicide bombers or Islamic Jihad members who were being detained.