Webmaster cleared of promoting terrorism

First Amendment defence wins through

A US jury yesterday cleared a Saudi graduate student of running websites that allegedly fostered terrorism.

Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, 34, a computer science student at the University of Idaho, was accused of running websites used to recruit terrorists, raise money and spread inflammatory rhetoric. The Islamic Assembly of North America websites were used by Al-Hussayen to run religious edicts defending suicide bombing and to solicit money for the militant Palestinian group Hamas, prosecutors alleged. The defence said Al-Hussayen was only a volunteer webmaster.

Al-Hussayen was charged with three terrorism-related charges as well as immigration and visa fraud offences. The closely-watched case was seen as a test of the newly-enacted Patriot Act.

But during the seven-week case the prosecution failed to convince a jury that Al-Hussayen had used his technical expertise to support terrorist activity. After seven days of deliberation, the jury found him not guilty of the three terrorism-related charges and three immigration offences. The jury failed to reach a verdict on a further eight counts of immigration and visa fraud. A mistrial was declared on those charges, which may become the subject of a second court case.

David Nevin, Al-Hussayen's lawyer, told AP that his client had "little to do with creating the material posted", which he said was protected by First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

Al-Hussayen, who has been imprisoned since his February 2003 arrest, still faces deportation. The son of a prominent Riyadh family, Al-Hussayen worked on his doctorate in prison while his wife and three children returned to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, rather than contest deportation. ®

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