Terrorism case against former USF professor may end with plea agreement

One of the country’s highest-profile terrorist cases may soon come to an end.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, former USF professor Sami Al-Arian agreed from his jail cell on Friday to plead guilty to a lesser count of conspiracy to provide support to members of a terrorist organization.

The plea agreement acknowledges Al-Arian did not commit violent crimes and that there are “no victims direct or indirect” due to his involvement with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

A hearing should be held sometime this week, and a federal judge will decide whether to end the case against Al-Arian. If the case is dropped, Al-Arian will most likely be deported.

“The government has spent 10 years trying to convict,” Al-Arian’s attorney William Moffitt told the Tampa Tribune on Friday. “I have no reason to believe they were not going to try Sami again. Why take the risk? It’s a guy with five children. … If he wins again, don’t you think these fools will try him again? It was time for it to be over.”

Al-Arian was acquitted on Dec. 5, 2005 on eight of 17 charges, including conspiracy to maim and murder people abroad and providing material support to a terrorist organization. He was acquitted on all other charges, with 10 of 12 jurors acquitting him on all charges.

Prosecutors dubbed Al-Arian as the North American leader of the PIJ, an organization that has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Israel and the occupied territories.

During the trial, prosecutors used a mountain of wiretapped conversations and more than 80 witnesses to try and convict Al-Arian.

Most of Al-Arian’s correspondence with the PIJ dated to before the government designated the PIJ as a terrorist organization, and Moffitt said any involvement Al-Arian had in the group was non violent.

Prosecutors said Al-Arian used USF and the now-defunct World Islamic Studies Enterprise (WISE) – an Islamic think tank – as covers to fund the violent acts of the PIJ.

The evidence also showed some of Al-Arian’s colleagues at WISE were being paid by the PIJ. One of the men who worked at WISE, Ramadan Shallah, later emerged as the leader of the PIJ in 1995.

USF President Judy Genshaft put Al-Arian on paid leave in September 2001 after his television appearance on The O’Reilly Factor.

Genshaft declined to comment on Al-Arian’s status with the University at Saturday’s spring football game.

Calls on Saturday to Nahla Al-Arian’s house went unsuccessful.

Al-Arian was arrested on Feb. 20, 2003, and fired from USF six days later. Al-Arian has been in jail ever since.

Information from the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune was used in this report.