8 Charged With Supporting Terrorist Group, 1 Born In P.R... Rossello D.C. Meeting Not On Pesqueras Agenda Vieques Comm. Favors RR Closing Rivera Defends Police Budget Expos Pricey In P.R. Rossello To Return March 15th Rodriguez Announces For Res. Comm .Parties Critique Governors Speech
Eight Charged With Supporting Palestinian Terror Group
February 20, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Florida computer engineering professor, and six other men, including a man born in Puerto Rico, were charged Thursday with overseeing and financing the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, which has been blamed for killing more than 100 people in Israel and adjacent territories.
The University of South Florida professor, 45-year-old Sami Amin Al-Arian, and three other U.S. residents were arrested after the 50-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Florida. The indictment describes Al-Arian as the Islamic Jihad's U.S. leader, head of a terrorist cell in Tampa and secretary of the group's worldwide council.
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the indictment sends a message: "We will hunt down the suppliers of terrorist money, we will shut down their sources and we will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same swift, certain justice of the United States of America."
Besides Al-Arian, those arrested were: Sameeh Hammoudeh, 42, born in the West Bank, now a resident of Temple Terrace, Florida and 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, Florida, manager at a medical clinic; Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 41, a West Bank native now living in Tinley Park, Illinois, and owner of a small business.
Shortly after his arrest in Tampa, Al-Arian told reporters, "It's all about politics." On forced leave from the university, he has publicly rejected the idea that he has ties to terrorism.
His attorney, Nicholas Matassini, said after a preliminary court hearing, "He's a political prisoner right now as we speak." The attorney denounced the indictment as "a work of fiction."
The indictment accuses the eight men of operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984 supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad and with conspiracy to kill and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support to the group, extortion, visa fraud, perjury and other charges. Each defendant could face life in prison if convicted.
Al-Arian and two others were arrested in Tampa and a fourth man was arrested in Chicago. The other four are top leaders of the group who live abroad and are being sought, Ashcroft said.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad was founded in the late 1970s, and its roots go back to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that also spawned the Hamas terrorist group. Its goals, according to the indictment, are to destroy Israel and end Western influence in the Middle East.
The group's alleged killings have included suicide bombings, car bombings and drive-by shootings, including a June 5, 2002, suicide attack in Haifa, Israel, that killed 20 and injured 50.
Among the people whose deaths are blamed on the organization are two U.S. citizens: Alisa Flatow, 20, and Shoshana Ben-Yishai, 16.
Alisa Flatow, then a junior at Brandeis University, died in a 1995 bus bombing in the Gaza Strip. Her father, Stephen Flatow, a resident of New Jersey, said Thursday, "This demonstrates the old saw about the wheels of justice - they grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine."
A written Islamic Jihad manifesto discovered as part of the U.S. investigation calls the United States "Great Satan-America" and rejects "any peaceful solution" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Ashcroft said.
The indictment describes numerous intercepted telephone calls and faxes in which those charged are said to have discussed Islamic Jihad bombings and other attacks, financial problems and whether to ally more closely with terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas. There is no mention of al-Qaida.
The men frequently talk in apparent code, substituting words like "magazine" and "shirt" for thousands of dollars they were allegedly funneling to Islamic Jihad.
To date, Ashcroft said, the Justice Department has investigated 70 terrorist financing or support organizations, winning 23 convictions and freezing $113 million in assets of 62 organizations.
The Islamic Jihad fund-raising and other alleged activities were centered on two organizations in Tampa: the Islamic Committee for Palestine - originally called Islamic Concern Project Inc. - and the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise or WISE, according to the indictment. Most of those charged also had some connection to the University of South Florida at one time or another.
Other members of the group living abroad were:
-Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, 45, a Gaza Strip native and now resident of Damascus, Syria. He is described as the worldwide leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a former instructor at the University of South Florida and former executive director of the World Islam and Studies Enterprise.
-Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi, 50, originally from Egypt and now living in Oxfordshire, England. The indictment calls him the United Kingdom leader of the group; he also was formerly associated with WISE.
-Mohammed Tasir Hassan Al-Khatib, 46, originally from the Gaza Strip and now living in Beirut. He is described as treasurer of the organization and formerly of the Islamic Committee for Palestine in Tampa.
-Abd Alabama 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.
Pesquera Will Not Go To Washington To Meet With Rossello
February 20, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) Although other New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders have visited former Gov. Pedro Rossello in Washington to discuss his candidacy for the gubernatorial post, NPP President Carlos Pesquera does not consider the possibility in his agenda.
However, NPP General Secretary William Rosales affirmed that Pesquera is available to meet with any NPP leader, including Rossello.
"The party doors remain open for any meeting that might be necessary during the coming days," Rosales said in a press conference at party headquarters in Santurce.
Rosales was clear in stating that Pesquera will discuss any public issue with Rossello, but that the gubernatorial candidacy of the former Transportation & Public Works secretary is not negotiable.
"The party presidency situation and the gubernatorial candidacy have been determined. He [Pesquera] is the NPP candidate for governor, and if that means holding a primary, well there will be a primary, Rosales insisted.
The NPP official said he will remain in his post as general secretary because Pesquera requested him to do so, which is why there will be someone else appointed to lead Pesqueras campaign.
Rosales also announced that the party is preparing for a rally throughout 72 municipalities in commemoration of Citizenship Day, to be held March 2.
The NPP secretary general asked the party leadership and statehood supporters to participate in the event no matter which candidate they are supporting.
Rosales said Pesquera will invite Rossello to the event, although the former governor has said he would not be available to come to the island until March 15.
The rally will be funded by the Bayamon municipal committee, the mayor of which, Ramon Luis Rivera Cruz, supports Pesquera.
"This is not the beginning of any campaign. Obviously, our president will be addressing the people as the party president," Rosales said.
The rally, which will start in the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamon on Friday at 9 a.m., will end Sunday, March 2, in front of the Capitol.
Vieques Commissioner Favors Roosevelt Roads Closing
February 20, 2003
PONCE (AP) Vieques and Culebra Commissioner Juan R. Fernandez said Thursday he is in favor of the closing of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba because he thinks it would benefit the economic development of the eastern region.
However, he said he thinks the U.S. Navy will not completely stop its operations in Roosevelt Roads, as has been claimed.
"I think that if the Navy left Roosevelt Roads, it would be an economic benefit for Puerto Rico and for the east zone," said Fernandez, former chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus.
"From the economic studies that I have seen, I believe it would be beneficial for the Navy to leave that base," he added in an interview with The Associated Press in Ponce.
Fernandez, who went to Ponce on Thursday to participate in a posthumous tribute to former Gov. Roberto Sanchez Vilella, specified that he is giving his personal opinion in favoring the closing of the naval base.
Gov. Sila Calderon has said she will fight for the retention of Roosevelt Roads, while Ceiba Mayor Gerardo Cruz Maldonado has predicted that the closing of the base would be an economic disaster for his municipality.
Fernandez, however, believes that claims that the closing of the base would mean the loss of many jobs are "exaggerated."
"The 3,000 jobs that have been mentioned and have been remarked by the Navy is an exaggeration," Fernandez said. "The Navy is including in that number military personnel that dont have anything to do with Puerto Rico."
The official believes that the base will remain open because it has many other functions in addition to the ones related to the military practices in the Vieques target range.
"The people who work in Roosevelt Roads, whose functions were related to Vieques, will lose work because Vieques closed, but there are other functions that need to continue, such as those related to atomic submarines," Fernandez said.
Rivera Defends Police Budget
February 20, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) - Although he acknowledged that he will have to repay the $70 million proposed by Gov. Sila Calderon for the purchase of equipment, Police Superintendent Victor Rivera was pleased with the suggested amount.
Rivera said the money to buy equipment, along with the proposal to hire an additional 1,200 officers, would help in the islands fight against crime.
He admitted that police will not receive the promised $125 monthly salary increase, but will receive $100 like all public employees. However, he was hopeful that Calderon could make the allocation sometime before the end of her tenure in office.
Rivera added that Calderon had assigned what she could.
"We all know how far we can go in accordance with the revenue," Rivera said.
The chief of police said he was pleased with the overall proposed budget of $742.4 million, which when compared with the current budget, represents an increase of nearly 8%.
In addition, Rivera defended the proposed budgets for all areas, even those that received cutbacks such as the United Forces of Rapid Action (FURA by its Spanish acronym), which will be assigned less than half of its current budget.
Rivera noted that once he took office, he reorganized the force, eliminating several deputy superintendents and grouping them together, thus cutting operational costs. One of them was FURA, which also receives federal funds from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program. Therefore, Rivera alleged that the cut from $30.9 million to $14.6 million will not really affect the division.
Another program that suffered cuts was the area of security and surveillance, where the proposed budget represents a $730,000 deduction.
Still, Rivera noted that technical equipment for that area might be purchased from the $70 million credit line. He also plans to promote an increase in the community watch groups that might even include special training of such squads in the police academy.
Funds from the credit line could also be used to purchase video surveillance cameras to be installed at the entrance of the islands public housing projects. The cameras, which according to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court do not violate any civil rights, will prove helpful in subsequent criminal investigations as they will record people going in and out of the projects.
If the plan is approved by the Public Housing Administration, the cameras could be purchased and installed by the end of the year, Rivera said.
Rivera has already made plans as to how he can spend the $70 million credit line.
"It is enough to buy 1,400 patrol cars, 500 4x2 vehicles, 500 motorcycles, 3,500 radios, and 17,000 bulletproof vests," Rivera said.
The department did receive an increase for some programs such as the College of Criminal Justice, where the proposed budget went up to $9.6 million from $8.3 million.
Expos Pricey In Puerto Rico
February 20, 2003
Single tickets for Montreal Expos games in Puerto Rico will range from $10 to $75, major league baseball announced yesterday. The prices are significantly higher than tickets to Expos games at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, which range from $8 to $36 this season. Montreal is playing 22 home games in San Juan in an attempt to increase revenue.
Rossellos Arrival To Island March 15 Confirmed
February 19, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) Fajardo Mayor Anibal Melendez confirmed Wednesday that former Gov. Pedro Rossello will return to the island March 15, and a welcome will be celebrated in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in Hato Rey.
Melendez, who is in charge of the committee that is organizing the welcome, said Rossello will arrive that day and remain here a week to visit several municipalities.
"We intend to give Rossello a warm welcome," he said as he arrived at a meeting of the New Progressive Party (NPP) Directorate.
Rossello announced last week his decision to seek the gubernatorial candidacy for the NPP for the next general elections.
Melendez explained that a finance and working committee has been organized for the welcome, consisting of Manati Mayor Juan Aubin Cruz Manzano and Reps. Jose Aponte and Jenniffer Gonzalez.
According to the mayor, the committee will concentrate on developing the events logistics and security, and he assured that they will soon start collecting funds for the activity.
However, he anticipated that each municipal committee will have to collect their own funds to take followers to the event.
Charlie Rodriguez To Run For Resident Commissioner
February 19, 2003
SAN JUAN (AP) Former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez announced Wednesday his intention to run for resident commissioner for the New Progressive Party (NPP) in the next general elections.
Rodriguez was also in favor of the selection of the candidate through primaries.
He also said he met with former Gov. Pedro Rossello to discuss his decision to run for resident commissioner.
Rodriguez said the former governor told him that he was also in favor of the candidate being chosen in a primary.
Until now, aside from Rodriguez, NPP Sens. Kenneth McClintock and Miriam Ramirez have also expressed their interest in running for the same post.
Rodriguez also announced his support of Rossellos candidacy because he believes Rossello has the experience and the will to work for the people.
He affirmed that Rossello will answer any questions when he returns regarding his tenure and the acts of corruption committed during his administration.
Accompanied by his family and NPP leaders, Rodriguez announced his working plan if he is elected resident commissioner, emphasizing the discussion of the islands political status.
Aside from the status issue, Rodriguez said he will seek to improve the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, which in his opinion has been affected by the separatist actions taken by the administration of Gov. Sila Calderon.
Rodriguez said his plan will also include working for the interests of those who need it most, such as the unemployed, the elderly, and single mothers.
He took the opportunity to criticize current Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, who he said spends more time in Puerto Rico than in Washington, neglecting his work in Congress.
PDP Defends Address; Opposition Criticizes Calderon
By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News
February 19, 2003
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) legislators defended Gov. Sila Calderons politically charged State of the Commonwealth address, arguing that she did not say anything that wasnt true.
"Its a different style from what the governor has presented to us before, but she didnt say anything that wasnt true," House Treasury Committee Chairman Francisco Zayas Seijo said.
Zayas Seijo went on to quote a song from leftist Catalan singer Joan Manuel Serrat: "The truth doesnt hurt; it has no remedy."
Calderon presented her proposed $23.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2003-04 during a joint House session on Tuesday night.
Zayas Seijo has been a strong critic of the Calderon administration and has not quivered to denounce deficits and differences in the numbers proposed.
Zayas Seijo, who will have the task to approve Calderons proposed budget, said considering the economy, "she did the most she could."
Calderons nearly two-hour long message was filed with political reference to Gov. Pedro Rossellos previous administration.
The governors message comes one week after Rossello officially announced his comeback into politics and his desire to run for the governors post again.
House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo did not see any irregularities in Calderons message, but rather argued that she was addressing an ongoing threat of going back to old styles, which the people did not want to recall.
"There is an intention of going to the past, and its a past to which we cant go back," Vizcarrondo said.
Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Fernando Martin, however, regretted Calderons continuing use of politics in her speech and noted that her behavior discredits the institution of the islands gubernatorial post.
"This is but the mere reflex of a tendency that has been growing in the past years, the use of a constitutional speech for political purposes; she is nothing but an advanced student of her predecessor," Martin said.
Meanwhile, the New Progressive Party minority criticized the governor for her use of the floor to criticize the previous administration.
Sen. Kenneth McClintock described the governor as acting in defense but noted that they will not question the legality of her message.
"The best way to reject her message is in the voting box when we elect a new governor," McClintock said.
Sen. Norma Burgos said the governor seemed somewhat "uneasy," and her speech reveals she wont be able to concentrate in her administrations remaining two years.
NPP Legislators Give Post Mortem Of Calderons Message
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News
February 19, 2003
Gov. Sila Calderons State of the Commonwealth address only presented a list of lies and promises that cannot be fulfilled, especially in the areas of public safety, crime, economy, and employment, said three New Progressive Party (NPP) legislators on Wednesday.
"As a woman, I feel disappointed because the governor, being the first woman to occupy that important government position, may give the impression that we women are not good administrators, which is a stigma that has been with us for decades," said NPP Sen. Norma Burgos.
First of all, Burgos criticized the fact that the governors promises for new salary, Christmas bonus raises, as well as several tax reliefs, wont be implemented until January 2004.
Burgos said she doesnt known how the Calderon administration intends to eradicate drug-dealing from the island when proposing cut-backs of $2.9 million in the criminal investigations budget, $16.2 million in the Police Rapid Action United Force (FURA by its Spanish acronym), $15.3 million in the Traffic Control and Safety, and $730,000 in the Public Housing Surveillance.
The NPP senator said the governors priorities are not those of the people, noting that while she cuts back on areas that are key to crime-fighting, she has increased by $770,000 the budget to pay for security staff for herself as well as for former governors.
Meanwhile, NPP Rep. Antonio Silva said the governor has fallen short of her promise to create 100,000 jobs during her four-year term. He said so far she has created 20,000, which are 30,000 jobs short of what she should have created by mid-term.
"It is amazing to hear this government referred to as a benefactor, when the people have directly felt in their pockets the financial difficulties through which Calderon has made us go," he said.
NPP Anibal Vega Borges also accused the governor of deliberately trying to represent a false economic reality.
"Just to give an example, the $700 million in tax benefits that will supposedly be given represent a $300 million difference. It is cynical to say that a benefit will be granted when the truth is that they are taking away more than a quarter of it," Vega Borges said, referring to the changes that Calderon intends to make to the tax reform originally proposed by the administration of Gov. Pedro Rossello.