Al-Arian trial put on hold until April 4

Associated Press

A federal judge has granted a request to delay the trial of a former professor suspected of terrorist ties, in part because of the publicity over Sami Al-Arian during the U.S. Senate race, as well as the amount of evidence in the case.

By moving the trial start to April 4, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. gave the former USF professor and his co-defendants less than the six additional months they sought. The trial had been scheduled to start in January.

Al-Arian and co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh, Hatim Naji Fariz and Ghassan Zayed Ballut are accused of using the think tank and a Palestinian charity Al-Arian funded as a cover for supporting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

All four have denied the charges and Al-Arian contends he is being prosecuted because of his politically unpopular views.

Al-Arian became a central issue in this year’s Senate race because Democratic nominee Betty Castor had been the president at USF in the 1990s when the FBI first started investigating the professor. Her campaign rival, Republican Mel Martinez, said her failure to fire Al-Arian indicated she was soft on terrorism.

Martinez rode President George W. Bush’s coattails to a narrow victory over Castor earlier this month.

Castor maintained she did all she could by placing Al-Arian on paid leave after the allegations emerged against him. He was never charged with a crime during her tenure, and her successor did not fire him until he was indicted in 2003.

In his request for a trial delay, attorney William Moffitt of Washington suggested the jury pool had been tainted by campaign publicity. He said one Martinez flier included photos of hooded terrorists brandishing guns, with the words: “Evil was in her midst.”