Mother of Mercy, Is This the Start of RICO?
Ashcroft's Terror Racket

Last week's arrest of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer professor at University of South Florida, is the most visible sign of John Ashcroft's war on terror in full swing. The indictment accuses eight men of operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984, supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and conspiring to kill and maim people abroad, among other charges, including extortion, visa fraud, and perjury. Each defendant could get life. Much, if not all, of the information in the indictment is old, and the idea that the professor is a threat seems at odds with the White House clearance he got not long ago to meet the president. But the case could easily set a precedent, allowing Ashcroft to use RICO and other laws to charge anyone contributing to any number of foreign causes as terrorists. The IRA, for example, obtained arms—and money to buy arms—through wide-scale fundraising drives in the U.S. during the 1990s. Those arms were placed in the hands of IRA units, which carried out bombings in central London and on one occasion even came close to killing then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Is Ashcroft going to prosecute all those who contributed to Irish Republicanism as terrorists?

Additional reporting: Phoebe St John, Rebecca Winsor, and Josh Saltzman

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