While most of the national media focused on the high-profile arrest of USF professor Sami Al-Arian Thursday, another of the men arrested also has ties to the university.
Sameeh Hammoudeh, a USF graduate student and instructor, was arrested and also charged with racketeering and conspiracy to murder.
The 42-year-old teaches Arabic and is also seeking a master’s degree in religious studies.
Richard Martin, a 24-year-old USF graduate student, took an Arabic class with Hammoudeh about four years ago. Martin said after reading the 120-page indictment, he was shocked. The instructor he knew didn’t seem to match the picture the allegations painted.
“For the most part, he never had any ill-will toward anybody,” Martin said. Martin described Hammoudeh as “honest and thoughtful.” One time, he took his class of seven students out to dinner, Martin said.
He said Hammoudeh made clear his sympathies for stateless Palestinians in class but never pushed the issue. He welcomed students who wanted to talk about the situation in Israel to engage in conversation after class.
“Of course, he was upset about the plight of the Palestinians, but he never said, ‘Let’s go out and kill some Israelis,'” Martin said.
Hammoudeh was born in Jordan in 1960. In 1993, he began working for Al-Arian’s World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank comprised of Muslim intellectuals.
In 1995, he began teaching at USF.
WISE gained national attention later that year when former member and USF adjunct Ramadan Abdullah Shallah surfaced in Damascus, Syria, as the new leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The U.S. government considers PIJ second only to al-Qaida on its list of deadly terrorist organizations, according to a 2001 Library of Congress report.
The indictment alleges that Hammoudeh played a major role in communicating with PIJ leaders overseas and arranged for the distribution of cash payoffs for suicide bombers.
More specifically, the indictment alleges that on April 22, 1994, then-leader of PIJ Fathi Shaqaqi transferred nearly $20,000 from Beirut to Hammoudeh’s First Union bank account in Florida.
Shallah took over after Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta in October 1995.
It was quiet in CPR 464 Thursday night, where Hammoudeh’s 6 p.m. Arabic IV class was scheduled to meet.
Two students who hadn’t heard of his arrest came to class, and a substitute was assigned to teach in Hammoudeh’s place. All declined comment following the class.
Hammoudeh also works at Al-Arian’s Islamic Academy of Florida off 56th Street. Officials at the academy had no comment regarding his arrest Thursday.