USF fires professor indicted on terrorism charges

From the archive (legacy material)

RACHEL LA CORTE | The Associated Press | 27 February 2003

TAMPA, Fla. – A Palestinian professor charged with leading the U.S. operations of a Middle Eastern terrorist group was fired Wednesday by the University of South Florida.
Sami Al-Arian, who had been suspended since shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, violated university policy, USF president Judy Genshaft said.
“Dr. Al-Arian’s statements about his activities have been false and misleading and he’s failed to meet our high professional standards,” Genshaft said. “No longer will he be able to hide under the shield of academic freedom.”
Genshaft declined to answer questions about Al-Arian’s criminal case during a midday news conference.
Al-Arian was arrested last Thursday, one of four people arrested here and in Chicago. They are accused in a 121-page indictment of setting up a terrorist cell at USF.
Al-Arian, a computer engineering professor, has been on a hunger strike since his arrest, saying in a Tuesday statement that he is a “prisoner of conscience” and the victim of post-Sept. 11 hysteria.
Al-Arian’s attorney, Robert McKee, refused comment Wednesday.
Al-Arian has been on paid leave since an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was quizzed about links to known terrorists, and asked about tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which he said “Death to Israel” in Arabic.
Al-Arian has said that he has never advocated violence against others and that his words were a statement against Israeli occupation. He also has consistently denied any connection to terrorists.
The government says Al-Arian used USF as a cover to bring Islamic Jihad members to the United States under the guise that they were attending academic conferences and raised money for the group.
Al-Arian and two co-defendants had been scheduled for a detention hearing Tuesday, but a magistrate judge delayed it after their attorneys said they weren’t ready. That means Al-Arian, Hatim Naji Fariz and part-time USF instructor and doctoral student Sameeh Hammoudeh will remain jailed without bond until they return to federal court March 24.
Another man, Ghassan Zayed Ballut, was arested in Chicago and is awaiting his transfer to Florida. Four other men who were indicted are overseas and have not yet been arrested.
The eight defendants are charged with operating a racketeering enterprise since 1984. The charges include conspiracy within the United States to kill and maim persons abroad, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, conspiracy to violate emergency economic sanctions, engaging in various acts of interstate extortion, perjury, obstruction of justice and immigration fraud.
If convicted, they face life in prison.
The university had wanted to fire Al-Arian since December 2001, when at the urging of university trustees, Genshaft said al-Arian should be removed from his $67,500-a-year job.
The school filed suit in August, citing terrorist allegations and seeking to have the court decide the free speech issues.
In December, a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, saying it was not a practical use of judicial resources.
“It’s been a very deliberative and long process,” Genshaft said Wednesday. “It’s just time to move the university forward.”
Before his arrest, Al-Arian had indicated that he would sue if he is fired, saying that would violate his free-speech rights.
Al-Arian and his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a now-defunct Islamic think tank at USF that was raided by the FBI in 1995. Al-Arian also founded the Islamic Concern Project Inc. in 1988.
Al-Arian has lived in the United States since 1975 and had taught at the university since 1986.
Last month, the USF faculty’s union filed a grievance on Al-Arian’s behalf, saying that banning him from campus violated the union’s contract, Al-Arian’s right to academic freedom and its own policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of ethnicity and religious affiliation.
His brother-in-law, who also had taught at the university, spent more than 3 1/2 years in jail on secret evidence linking him to terrorists. He was released in 2000 but arrested again in November 2001 and deported last August to an undisclosed Arab country.
For a chronology and detailed overview of this case, visit (MB)