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A decade of news: The Oracle highlights its top 10 stories

1. Former USF professor convicted for helping terrorist group – Feb. 20, 2003

Former USF engineering professor Sami Al-Arian was arrested at his home by FBI agents and charged with helping the Palestinian Islamic Jihad by funding terrorist attacks in Israel. Al-Arian, who was fired by USF, faced 17 charges but was acquitted on eight and pled guilty to one count of conspiracy.

Prosecutors dropped the remaining eight charges. Al-Arian spent nearly five years in solitary confinement before he was deported to Egypt — his homeland.

Al-Arian also served an 18-month sentence for civil contempt in a Virginia jail for refusing to testify in a case regarding Muslim charities.

Al-Arian began working at USF in 1986 and was granted permanent residence status three years later. But he was denied citizenship in 1996.

Other individuals involved in the case had ties to USF, including former instructor and graduate student Sameeh Hammoudeh, who was arrested and charged with racketeering and conspiracy to murder, and former USF adjunct Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who was sought overseas. Hammoudeh was cleared of his charges.

2. Planes strike World Trade Centers
– Sept. 11, 2001

Hijackers crashed two airlines into the two 110-story World Trade Centers in New York City, causing the two towers to crumble. Another plane struck the Pentagon and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh.

There were no known survivors on the four airplanes.

USF students and faculty held a vigil in the Special Events Center — now the Marshall Student Center — the day after the attack.

One USF professor and three graduate students arrived in New York the day after the attack to assist in search and rescue efforts.

They were one of three groups who contributed a combined 16  robots used to help workers see into unsafe places and allow them to talk to injured victims from the surface. The group from USF worked 12-hour shifts for 11 days.

The robots. which ranged in price from $10,000 to $40,000, were able to locate five victims in the rubble. One was believed to be a fireman.

It was the first time the robotics technology had ever been used in the field.

The casualties in the attack totaled 2,973 reported by the Associated Press.

3. University tightens cash-collection policy
– Jan. 26, 2006

One month after $275,000 in cash and non-deposited checks was found inside an office in the English Language Institute (ELI), USF eliminated some cash-collection sites and dismissed employees.

Of that money, $32,000 in cash and $243,000 in student checks was found in the office of Patricia Baker, a former senior fiscal assistant for the ELI, during the 2005 holiday break. Baker was dismissed from the University.

According to Baker’s notice of dismissal, the misplacement of funds amounted to at least $133,647 in losses.

Former ELI Director Richard Schreck and former Assistant Director for Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Smith-Palinkas were fired because of “lack of attention to (their) management responsibilities.”

According to a state auditor’s report from 2003 and 2004, USF was lax on collection controls and vulnerable to incidents similar to what happened in the ELI.

After the incident, the University moved to reduce the number of collection units.

4. Former USF student faces terrorist-related charges
– August 2007
During a traffic stop in Charleston, S.C., police found PVC pipes, fuses and other materials in the trunk of then-USF student Youssef Megahed and former-student Ahmed Mohamed’s vehicle.

After nearly two years of trial, Megahed was acquitted twice of federal explosive charges but was
placed in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which claimed he should be deported for being likely to engage in terrorist activities.

However, Megahed was eventually released. A judge in Miami ruled that the U.S. government did not have a strong enough case to convict him.

The government had 30 days to appeal the judge’s ruling, but it never came.

Megahed, who was originally admitted to the University in 2002, applied for readmission to USF in June.

The Oracle reported in August that Megahed, who has a green card and is a registered U.S. resident, had been readmitted to USF, with the school making an official announcement shortly after.

He graduated in the fall with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

— Additional reporting by Julia Pappacoda

5. Authorities test white powder for anthrax
– Oct.19, 2001

When a part-time Oracle employee opened an envelope to find it contained a white, powdery substance, she threw it away.

But after she learned more about the anthrax scare across the nation, she informed her supervisor.

The Oracle insisted testing be done as a safety precaution.

The employee, who was not a student, did not touch or smell the substance.

Preliminary results of the Oracle employee were negative but three other Oracle staff members still chose to be tested.

Doctors said there was no 100 percent accurate test for anthrax exposure. 

Nothing had grown in the culture from the employee’s tests after 48 hours and things weren’t likely to change after 72 hours, doctors said. If employees were healthy, then there was no need to worry, they said.

If the results came back positive, then employees would be put on medication.

Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management officials did not find “additional residue or suspicious conditions.”

6. Two former football players among missing at sea
– Feb. 28, 2009

One former USF football player and two former members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not return from a fishing trip off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Coast Guard found one from the group of four who went missing, former USF football player Nick Schuyler, clinging to the bottom of the boat taken on the trip. Schuyler, who played for USF in 2006, suffered from moderate hypothermia.

The Coast Guard searched for three days before suspending its search for the three remaining boaters: former USF football player William Bleakley, who also played for the Bulls in 2006, and NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith.

A number of USF football coaches, including former USF coach Jim Leavitt and players attended a memorial service for Bleakley weeks after the search was suspended.

In an investigation report, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said that improper anchoring caused the boat to capsize.

Schuyler told investigators  in a report that the men were thrown from the boat.  He said 12 hours after the capsize Cooper became unresponsive, Smith took off his life vest and Bleakley appeared to have passed. Schuyler said the three became separated from the boat.

7. USF football climbs to No. 2 in the nation
– Oct. 15, 2007

After trouncing Central Florida 64-12 in October  2007, USF climbed to No. 2 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings — the highest mark in program history.

However, two weeks later, USF suffered losses to Rutgers and Connecticut, sending the Bulls to No. 18 in the BCS.

Druing the season, USF had a marquee win over then-top 10 ranked West Virginia at Raymond James Stadium, which is still referred to as the best victory in school history.

Then-No. 23 USF ended the season 9-4 after losing to Oregon 56-21 in the Sun Bowl.

During their streak of football success, the Bulls have been to five consecutive bowl games in five seasons.

However, the 2007 climb to a No. 2 ranking is the most successful season in program history.

8. Gun, bomb scare puts campus on lockdown
– Oct. 5, 2009

In October, former USF student Markenson Innocent identified himself as “Isaiah Daniels” in a 911 call and told police that “Markenson Innocent” was on campus with a gun and a bomb.

During the nearly four-hour campus lockdown, Innocent posted comments on his Facebook  containing details about the emergency situation that were not available to the public.

Innocent was arrested and charged with a felony of a false report of a bomb against state-owned property, a felony of unlawful use of a two-way communication device and a misdemeanor of disrupting a school campus or function.

Innocent was released from jail on Oct. 17.

USF student Vincent Thomas-Perry McCoy was also arrested on Oct. 5 after he claimed to have a bomb while riding on a Bull Runner bus.

9. Man shot to death in campus parking lot
– Feb. 9, 2006

USF Police found former USF student and staff member Ronald Stem dead in Parking Lot 24 near Magnolia Apartments in February 2006.

Stem had been fatally shot in the upper body.

The Tampa Police Department’s Dive Team searched the retention pond next to the Life Sciences building after video footage showed three suspects heading in that direction. University Police (UP) posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests and convictions of those responsible.

At the time of the incident, UP had last issued a reward in 1996 when a USF student sent a threatening letter to the Oracle.

The letter threatened to bomb a building, kill a white female professor and set a fake detonator off in a crowded area. The student was arrested.

10. Hello, Big East
— Nov. 4, 2003

USF’s athletics department took a major step forward when the Bulls accepted a bid in 2003 to join the Big East conference in 2005, soaring expectations on a relatively new football program and elevating the program to a BCS conference.

Two years later, former USF coach Jim Leavitt led the Bulls to a No. 2 ranking in football, though the Bulls have never won a Big East championship.

The move also elevated all of USF’s other sports. The Big East is regarded as the best conference for men’s and women’s basketball.

Since joining the conference, USF had Big East titles in men’s and women’s tennis and men’s soccer.

The women’s basketball team won its first postseason championship last year with a victory over Kansas in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament final.