Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

Sami Osmakac, accused of terrorism, continues refusal to stand for judge

TAMPA — The trial of Sami Osmakac, the Kosovo-born U.S. citizen accused of scheming to plant bombs across Tampa, began Tuesday with jury selection.

Security was heightened both outside the courthouse, where officials from the Department of Homeland Security patrolled, and inside, where anyone entering the courtroom had to pass through an additional metal detector.

In the back of the courtroom, screens were set up in preparation for witnesses who will testify anonymously. The first witness in the trial is expected to take the stand today and to testify for four days, his face obscured by the screens and his identity hidden behind a pseudonym.

Osmakac, 27, whose family moved to the United States when he was a teenager and settled in Pinellas Park, was arrested in 2012, after months of being watched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Charged with possessing an unregistered AK-47 and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, he faces life in prison if convicted.

His is the most prominent terrorism case to be heard in Tampa since the 2005 trial of former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was charged, along with three other men, of operating the U.S. wing of a Palestinian terrorist group.

Though he had asked to appear in court in Islamic garb, Osmakac did not get his wish. He had requested a white ankle-length robe and a keffiyeh, traditional Arab headgear. But on Tuesday, he walked into court in a white linen suit and nothing on his head but his closely cropped brown hair.

The court wouldn't pay for the clothing he had requested, explained Osmakac's attorney, George Tragos, and his family refused to supply the desired attire.

U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven interviewed 91 potential jurors for the trial, dismissing all but 37 of them by the end of the day. The process will continue this morning, when prosecutors and defense attorneys expect to pick a final group of 18 jurors.

Some of those dismissed were sent home after they protested that the four-week trial would cause financial hardship or lead them to miss out on planned summer vacations. But others said they had larger concerns with Osmakac's behavior, in particular his refusal to stand up when the judge and jury enter the courtroom. Though Scriven told the group that the defendant was within his rights not to follow this custom, some jurors took offense.

"This is America's court, you should abide by the rules," said an older man, who also said that he couldn't be impartial because of his views on terrorism and the people behind such attacks. "I personally feel that America has been too easy on them."

He was excused. So, too, was a woman who witnessed the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, which killed more than 200 people. "I saw all the havoc," she said, admitting that she couldn't be a fair juror in a terrorism case.

Osmakac was an outcast in the Tampa Bay Muslim community. He was kicked out of two mosques and was ultimately reported to the FBI by a Muslim acquaintance, who said he was looking for an al-Qaida flag and talking about planting bombs. According to a federal complaint, his targets were ever-changing.

He talked about blowing up bridges, a county sheriff's building and Ybor City nightclubs. At one point, he had his eye on MacDinton's, an Irish bar in South Tampa. He considered the attacks "payback" for the wrongs done to Muslims, according to an arrest affidavit.

Secretly recorded by an uncover FBI agent, Osmakac met with the man and later bought weapons and a fake bomb from him. No attack took place and prosecutors say he acted alone. In a trial brief, his defense attorneys have suggested that he was entrapped and that he was vulnerable to an outsider's suggestions.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.

Comments
Atlanta airport power outage cancels 1,000 flights; more Delta cancellations Monday

Atlanta airport power outage cancels 1,000 flights; more Delta cancellations Monday

ATLANTA — A sudden power outage brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush. Authorities announced that electricity would be restored...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Bucs-Falcons: Things to watch in Monday’s 8:30 p.m. game

Bucs-Falcons: Things to watch in Monday’s 8:30 p.m. game

TAMPA — The Bucs and Falcons have each won three straight games on Monday nights as they face each other on a national platform tonight at Raymond James Stadium.How can Tampa Bay continue its streak and stop Atlanta’s? It won’t be easy, but given the...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Bitcoin futures begin trading on CME, price little changed

NEW YORK — Another security based on the price of bitcoin, the digital currency that has soared in value and volatility this year, began trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Sunday. The CME Group, which owns the exchange, opened up bitcoin f...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Woman shot and killed in apparent drive-by shooting in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — A woman was shot to death Sunday night in an apparent drive-by shooting, according to Clearwater police.Authorities said they received an initial call at 8:19 p.m. originating from 800 Belleair Road. The shooting is believed to have occu...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bucs fans call for Jon Gruden — why was he fired to begin with?

Bucs fans call for Jon Gruden — why was he fired to begin with?

TAMPA — The beers and the "love ya, bros" were flowing Saturday night at the Hooters in Tampa. Jon Gruden, who will be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor at halftime of tonight’s home game against the Falcons, worked the room, greeting family, frie...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Fennelly: Jon Gruden was one hard-working bro

Fennelly: Jon Gruden was one hard-working bro

TAMPA — It’s ridiculous that it took this long to give Jon Gruden a night all his own, given the nights he gave Bucs fans. But it will happen this evening at Raymond James Stadium, a salute to the thermonuclear source of that Super Bowl season, that ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Massachusetts rolls 100-foot-long joint; McCain likely to miss tax bill vote; Cherokee Nation’s fear of losing heritage drives opioid lawsuit; more in U.S. news

Massachusetts rolls 100-foot-long joint; McCain likely to miss tax bill vote; Cherokee Nation’s fear of losing heritage drives opioid lawsuit; more in U.S. news

Massachusetts Rolling a fat one — 100 feet longMarijuana aficionados have rolled a 100-foot-long joint. The effort was led by Boston-based cannabis club and advocacy group Beantown Greentown during an exhibition of pro-marijuana vendors and supporter...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Friendly competition

Friendly competition

 
Updated: 6 hours ago

More than 300 cruise passengers fall ill with stomach virus

PORT EVERGLADES — More than 300 passengers on a cruise ship that docked at Port Everglades fell ill with a stomach virus. The Naples Daily News reported that the Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited’s ship Independence docked Saturday in Florida reported ...
Updated: 7 hours ago