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Ashcroft: Nafi Al-Arian’s British cohort

As Sami Al-Arian was led into the federal courthouse on the day of his arrest, he told reporters what he thought of the indictment that accused him of being a terrorist.

“It’s all about politics,” Al-Arian said as he was led inside.

Later that afternoon, Al-Arian’s attorney, Nicholas Matassini, referred to the indictment as a “work of fiction.”

But it was Bashir Nafi, a British academic named in the indictment, who had the most terse explanation of the justice department charges.

“This is bull—-,” Nafi told The Evening Standard in London. “I’m no killer.”

Since the indictment came down Feb. 20, Nafi has waged a battle to clear his name. He has repeatedly said that he should not be considered guilty because of his associations.

The Justice Department does not agree. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Nafi aided in funding that led to the death of civilians. And while the Justice Department characterizes Al-Arian as the North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, it calls Nafi the European head of the organization, an accusation he emphatically denies.

It is alleged that Nafi has connections with known and accused terrorists. Nafi was a partner in the creation of the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, an Islamic think tank with connections to USF that allegedly was a cover business for PIJ. He is said to have helped come up with the concept for WISE.

As a result of Nafi’s participation in WISE, Nafi came into contact with Al-Arian, Mazen Al-Najjar, Al-Arian’s brother-in-law former USF adjunct and current PIJ world leader Ramadan Shallah.

Nafi, according the indictment, has been caught on wire taps discussing PIJ with Al-Arian. He is also accused of participating in an Islamic Committee for Palestine conference, which has been alleged as a fund raising venture for PIJ. In addition, it has been alleged that Nafi left the United States in 1996 under threat of deportation because of his links to terrorism.

Nafi was named in William Reece Smith’s 1995 report to then USF President Betty Castor. The report was ordered to investigate the USF connection to WISE and its possible link to terrorism.

Smith’s report doesn’t exactly exonerate Al-Arian and company, but it admits that there is no substantial evidence to warrant further investigation.

Smith’s report spends substantial time listing Nafi’s involvement with WISE and USF. While living abroad, the report said Nafi participated in WISE. Further, Nafi is linked to Fathi Shikaki, who lead PIJ until his assassination in 1995. Shikaki was succeeded by Shallah. Nafi, according to the report, was involved in “the development of political theory said to have later influenced the Islamic Jihad movement.”

Smith further cites a confidential informant who identified Nafi in an affidavit as a “significant leading member of Islamic Jihad.”

None of these allegations, however, have seemed to have much of an effect on Nafi’s life or how the British government is dealing with him. Nafi continues to teach at Birkbeck College in London and live his normal life. British officials allegedly refused a request from the Justice Department to extradite Nafi so that he could stand trial.

In a report published in London’s Feb. 23 Sunday Telegraph, an official from the Justice Department expressed fury at the refused request, which reportedly came in early February.

“I thought the Brits were on our side in the war against terrorism,” the official said. “But when something like this happens, you wonder.”

A British official said that Nafi had not been arrested because he “has not broken the law in this country (England).”

The official said the United States had not properly filed for extradition.

If that is the case, Nafi may be living an uneasy life that could, at any second, be interrupted by an arrest. But, until then, the 50-year-old will continue his life with his Irish wife and avoid the fate of Al-Arian, Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Fariz and Ghassan Ballut.

Those four men, the ones who have been arrested in connection with the indictment, are reportedly living a difficult existence at the Coleman Federal Correctional Facility, an hour north of Tampa. Reportedly, they are living in solitary confinement and still awaiting a bail ruling from Judge Mark Pizzo. That ruling could come at any time.

Al-Arian will be arraigned today. It is during that proceeding that Matassini will report to Judge Thomas McCoun whether he can continue in Al-Arian’s defense.