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[] Jury acquits man of charges he used Net to promote terrorism,

Jury acquits man of charges he used Net to promote terrorism

By The Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho ? In a case that pitted the Constitution against the
Patriot Act, a Saudi graduate student was acquitted of charges he used
his computer expertise to help Muslim terrorists raise money and recruit

A jury deliberated nearly seven days before handing down its verdict
yesterday in favor of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a 34-year-old Ph.D.
candidate in computer science at the University of Idaho.

?The message is that the First Amendment is important and meaningful in
this country,? said David Nevin, lead attorney for Al-Hussayen. ?The
system worked.?

The case against Al-Hussayen was seen as an important test of a
provision of the Patriot Act that makes it a crime to provide expert
advice or assistance to terrorists. The act, passed in response to the
Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, also expanded the government?s
surveillance and detention powers.

Al-Hussayen set up and ran Web sites that prosecutors said were used to
recruit terrorists, raise money and disseminate inflammatory rhetoric.
They said the sites included religious edicts justifying suicide
bombings and an invitation to contribute financially to the militant
Palestinian organization Hamas.

Al-Hussayen?s attorneys argued that he 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..

?There was a lack of hard evidence,? said juror John Steger. ?There was
no clear-cut evidence that said he was a terrorist, so it was all on

Steger said the 2 ½-year, multimillion-dollar federal investigation
never generated the evidence ? even with reams of financial records and
transcripts of intercepted phone calls and e-mails ? to convict

?It showed he was involved in what he was doing,? Steger said, ?but it
seemed it was pretty innocent what he was doing.?

Al-Hussayen 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

U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said it would be a week before a decision was
made on whether to retry Al-Hussayen on the eight counts on which the
jury was deadlocked.

Al-Hussayen 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 decides what to do next.

Moss rejected any suggestion that the verdict would stifle the
government?s pursuit of terrorism supporters.

?You don?t just need people who will strap on bombs and walk into
crowds. You need people to support them. For terrorism to flourish they
have to have a communications network,? Moss said. ?This was a case as
prosecutors we?re expected to pursue.?

Justice Department officials in Washington declined comment on the

Legal experts see the verdict as only an early victory in what they
expect to be an extended battle against the federal government?s use of
the Patriot Act to pursue people on the basis of what they say, write
and disseminate.

?This is a setback for them but not necessarily a definitive one,? said
attorney Kevin Bankston at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
free-speech group. ?The threat still exists so long as the law is
enforced throughout the country.?

David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University, said Web masters
should not put too much importance on the determination of one jury.

Cole said prosecuting an individual not for his own speech but for
passing on the speech of others is ?an extremely broad theory and the
fact that it has been rejected in Idaho doesn?t mean that other
prosecutors won?t pursue it elsewhere.

?But it ought to give pause to the Justice Department in pursuing such
cases in the future,? he said.

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 Arabia
earlier this year rather than fight deportation.

It was not the first time the government has lost a court battle over
the Patriot Act provision. In January, a federal judge in California
ruled the provision violates people?s First and Fifth Amendment rights.

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