Ex-Professor Accused in Terrorism Case to Be Deported
Federal authorities have decided to deport a former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida and longtime Palestinian rights activist after failing to convict him on charges he helped finance terrorist attacks in Israel.
Sami Al-Arian, who had met with U.S. presidents and other political leaders before his terrorism indictment in 2003, reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a lesser charge and be deported, two lawyers familiar with the case said Friday. The arrangement requires the approval of a judge.
It was not clear where Al-Arian would be sent.
Al-Arian has remained in jail since a jury in Tampa, Fla., acquitted him in December of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and deadlocked on the rest. Stung by the defeat in the high-profile case, prosecutors pondered whether to retry him on the remaining charges, including three conspiracy counts, or deport him.
U.S. Justice Department and immigration officials declined to comment on the agreement, as did Linda Moreno, a lawyer who represented Al-Arian during his trial. Moreno and William Moffitt withdrew as Al-Arian’s lawyers in March and it was not clear who currently represents him.
The lawyers spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not been made public by the court.
The case against Al-Arian was once hailed by authorities as a triumph of the Patriot Act, which allowed secret wiretaps and other information gathered by intelligence agents to be used in criminal prosecutions.
Al-Arian and three co-defendants were charged with running a North American cell of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian had been under FBI surveillance at least since the mid-1990s.
But at the end of a five-month trial, jurors said the mountain of intercepted phone calls and other materials did not directly link Al-Arian and the others to violent acts, specifically a terrorist attack in 1995 that killed seven Israelis and American Alisa Flatow.
A Palestinian who was born in Kuwait, Al-Arian has lived in the United States for 30 years and holds permanent residency status. He was raised mostly in Egypt.
He had been a computer engineering professor at the USF but was fired after his indictment. He has been held without bail for more than three years.
Al-Arian was a nationally known activist who organized voter registration drives, campaigned for candidates and lobbied politicians.
His attorneys have said he has been to the White House and met with Presidents Clinton and Bush on four separate occasions. Al-Arian also had contact with nearly two-dozen political and government leaders, including Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert, his lawyers have said.
The handling of his case became an issue in the 2004 U.S. Senate election in Florida, won by Republican Mel Martinez. Betty Castor, the Democratic candidate, was the University of South Florida president when Al-Arian was on the faculty.
— Associated Press
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