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Al-Arian’s fate still undecided

How it all began:

On Feb. 20, 2003, the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Sami Al-Arian and three others (Sameeh Hammoudeh, Ghassan Zayed Ballut and Hatem Naji Fariz) for racketeering and providing material support to terrorists on a 53-count indictment. If convicted, they could serve life in prison, according to a 2003 CNN report.

The indictment claims that Al-Arian was considered the leader and governing secretary of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the United States and that he used a Palestinian charity, an Islamic school and an Islamic Tampa think tank as fronts for his terrorist ties.

“We make no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance, manage or supervise terrorist organizations,” former Attorney General John Ashcroft said in February 2003 after publicly announcing the indictment.

The PIJ, translated as Palestinian Holy War, is a terrorist organization that was formed in the 1970s and is committed to the destruction of Israel in order to create an Islamic state of Palestine through violent attacks on Israeli civilians and military, according to the U.S. Department of State Web site. The PIJ has claimed responsibility for the deaths of more than 100 Israeli citizens, including at least two American citizens studying in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Al-Arian is thought to have wired tens of thousands of dollars to the PIJ and the relatives of those PIJ members jailed for their involvement in terrorist bombings against Israelis in Israel and the West Bank, according to a 2003 CNN report.

Al Arian, 47, is a native Kuwaiti who began teaching computer engineering at USF in 1986. He later became a tenured professor. In 1990, Al-Arian and a USF adjunct professor, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, founded an Islamic think tank called the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). Shallah, who was the director of WISE, became the new head of the PIJ in Damascus, Syria, in October 1995, after leaving USF four months prior.

On Sept. 27, 2001, Al-Arian was suspended from his duties at USF. On December 19, 2001, President Judy Genshaft announced Professor Al-Arian’s imminent termination.

Due to the breadth of authority given by the Patriot Act, the FBI had intercepted a large amount of evidence against him before his arrest, including thousands of hours of Al-Arian’s telephone conversations and a decade’s worth of his faxes, according to a CNN report.

Al-Arian was interviewed by CNN in August of 2002 during the investigation and said, “I don’t support suicide bombings. I don’t support the targeting of civilians of any nationality, background or religion. I am deeply against it.”

At an August 2002 event Al-Arian said, “I’ve explained this over and over again. I am a pro-Palestinian person. I don’t wish death to any people.”

Al-Arian and his defendants claim that he is being ostracized due to his pro-Palestinian beliefs, which they say are not shared by the U.S. government. Many Al-Arian supporters believe the hysteria brought on by the Sept. 11 attacks led to what they believe is Al-Arian’s false imprisonment.

On June 6, Al-Arian’s trial began.

During the week of Aug. 8 — 12, federal prosecutors looked into the numerous taped phone conversations and faxes that show correspondence between Al-Arian and the three top governing leaders of the PIJ from 1994-1995. Although much of the evidence is seen as arbitrary, FBI agent Kerry Myers and prosecutor Walter E. Furr III “have worked together” to translate the documents from Arabic to English and to explain the pieces of evidence to the jury that they say is key in proving Al-Arian’s direct financial and emotional support of the terrorist organization. Defense attorneys have questioned the prosecution’s interpretations of the transcripts, but have made no comments to the media. The cross-examination of agent Myers will come after all the transcripts have been presented.

Although direct monetary connections have yet to be proven, the phone calls and faxes describe the finances and direction of the terrorist organization and a possible merger with Hamas, a well-known terrorist organization from Lebanon. Judge James S. Moody told the court that prosecutors must prove that Al-Arian and co-defendants knew that the money was funding violent terrorist acts.

The correspondence revealed praise for PIJ terrorists who carried out attacks against Israelis. In a letter read in court from January 1995, Al-Arian requests funds to be delivered to the family of a dead PIJ suicide bomber who killed 22 Israeli soldiers, and expresses his “wishes” for similar operations to continue. The addressee denied ever receiving the letter, which may discredit its authenticity.

Al-Arian expressed his frustration at being unable to access $350,000 of PIJ funds for his Tampa think tank. According to Al-Arian, the money was being withheld against the rules by his brother-in-law, the PIJ’s treasurer. However, the prosecution said Al-Arian tried to access the money without consulting the treasurer. It was at this point that the PIJ cut him off from the money.

Al-Arian denied his relationship with Shallah to a Tampa Tribune reporter in 1995, stating that he only knew the man by Ramadan Abdullah, not Shallah. Prosecutors believe this was in an effort to cover up the true nature of his ties with the PIJ. The prosecution showed the court that Al-Arian did know him and that he signed Shallah’s petition for nonimmigrant worker status filed with the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1993.

During 2002 and into 2003, the United Faculty of Florida assisted Al-Arian in his confrontation with the USF Board of Trustees.

On Feb. 20, 2003, Al-Arian was indicted by a federal grand jury for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act; on Feb. 26, President Genshaft sent Al-Arian the third, and apparently final, Letter of Termination. Al-Arian is fighting the dismissal, but is doing so outside of the contract, thus relegating UFF, in his lawyer’s words, “out of the loop.”