Waiting for feds’ next move

Three days after a federal judge declared a mistrial in the terrorism-conspiracy case of a former USF professor, Sami Al-Arian remains behind bars. Sameeh Hammoudeh, a co-defendant and former graduate student at USF, was found not guilty on all counts. He was released from his cell at Orient Road Jail Wednesday afternoon and taken into the custody of Immigration officials, according to an arrest record.

Al-Arian could also be picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if U.S. attorneys decide not to retry his case. According to the Associated Press, ICE can deport any foreign national it decides is a terrorism risk, and immigration proceedings can be held to a lower burden of proof than the criminal courts.

A spokeswoman for the Tampa office of ICE said Wednesday the ICE had “clear and convincing” evidence Al-Arian communicated with known terrorists. She said the agency would use testimony from the criminal trial and evidence that shows Al-Arian voted illegally in a Hillsborough County election.

Al-Arian’s brother-in-law and former USF professor Mazen Al-Najjar was deported in 2002 after being held in prison for nearly three years on secret evidence.

On Tuesday, Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight of 17 counts, which include conspiracy to murder and maim people abroad, money laundering and providing material support to a terrorist organization.

U.S. attorneys could retry Al-Arian on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to make and receive contributions to terrorists.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said there was no timetable for a decision.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expressed disappointment at the outcome of the trial and said the Department of Justice was evaluating whether a retrial was appropriate, according to the AP.

“That’s something we’re currently evaluating, whether a retrial is appropriate,” Gonzales told the AP. “These are very, very difficult cases, and obviously we’re disappointed in what happened in Tampa. We believed this was a good case to bring.”

Al-Arian began working at USF in 1986 and was granted permanent residence status three years later. He was denied citizenship status in 1996 and was put on paid leave from USF in 2001. He was fired from the University under the direction of USF President Judy Genshaft in 2003 after being arrested by FBI agents. Two years later his case went to trial.

USF has said it doesn’t expect Al-Arian to return.