Al-Arian was born in Kuwait. He emigrated with his family to Egypt in 1966, and traveled to the United States in 1975 at the age of 17 to attend university. He obtained his Bachelor's Degree, graduating with honors in 1978 with a major in Electrical Engineering, and completed his Master's Degree and Ph.D. in computer engineering in 1980 and 1985 respectively. In 1986, he was hired as a professor in the Computer Sciences Department at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Dr. Al-Arian is married to Nahla Al-Arian and has five children, including Abdullah Al-Arian. Abdullah Al-Arian was the subject of national media attention when he was escorted out of the White House by the Secret Service in June, 2001. At the time, the younger Al-Arian was an intern for U.S. Rep. David E. Bonior; the White House later issued a public apology over the incident.
Al-Arian played a prominent role in establishing a number of Arab and Islamic institutions over the past quarter of a century. These include the Arab Muslim Youth League in 1977, the Islamic Community Center in Tampa, and the Florida Islamic Academy, which is an Islamic school for students in Tampa and its suburbs. He was also imam of his mosque. He also co-founded the Islamic Association for Palestine in 1981. Its daughter organization is the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. InfoCom Corporation, another organization affiliated with IAP, had its offices raided by the U.S. government.
Al-Arian is considered to have been among the most active lecturers in North America in the 1980s and 1990s on the subjects of the Palestinian cause, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the relationship between Islam and the West. He helped to found the World Islamic Study Enterprise (WISE) and the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP), also known as the Islamic Concern Project, in 1990. Over a period of five years, WISE and ICP issued 20 volumes and several books, as well as sponsoring several conferences.
Al-Arian was also involved in U.S. national politics, having met with then-candidate George W. Bush at a campaign event in Florida in March 2000 where Bush and his wife, Laura, posed for a photo with Al-Arian and his family members. Al-Arian later claimed to have spoken to Bush about the government use of "secret evidence" in deportation proceedings against accused terrorists. When Bush subsequently brought up the issue in a debate with Al Gore, Al-Arian was reportedly "thrilled--and began registering local Muslims for the Republican Party and praising Bush at local mosques." He also lobbied Congress on civil liberties matters, contributed thousands of dollars to the campaigns of influential members of Congress, and renounced violence during television appearances. In June, 2001, Al-Arian joined 150 Muslim-American activists in a White House briefing with Karl Rove.
Ties to terrorism
Accusations that WISE and ICP were fronts for terrorists were made in a series of articles in the Tampa Tribune. ICP sponsored several conferences in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in which terrorists attended, including Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was implicated in the 1993 New York City landmark bomb plot. Other attendees included Sheikh Abdel Aziz Odeh, spiritual leader of Islamic Jihad. In 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) submitted an affidavit for a search warrant against ICP, WISE, and Al-Arian, which alleged that ICP and WISE were fronts that were used to help individuals to obtain visas and enter the United States.
In February 2003, the FBI accused al-Arian and seven others of being involved since 1984 in a criminal organization that assists the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement. The authorities added that this organization had been responsible for hundreds of terrorist acts in Israel, resulting in over 100 deaths, and that Al-Arian was the jihad movement's chief of operations in the United States. Al-Arian denied any connection with terrorist activities.
Following the publicity regarding his non-academic activities as well as the criminal allegations, he was suspended with pay from his university position, while an investigation was conducted for the university by William Reese Smith, prominent attorney and former president of the American Bar Association. Shortly thereafter, the university formally notified him of its intent to terminate his employment. The Smith investigation discovered no evidence against Al-Arian, who resumed teaching. At that time, federal authorities were unable to comment on Al-Arian's status. As Dr. Al-Arian was a tenured professor, both the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and United Faculty of Florida (the faculty union) opposed the actions of the university administration in Al-Arian's case. After announcing its intent to fire Dr. Al-Arian, the case hung in suspense for many months. The university fired Dr. Al-Arian shortly after his Federal indictment and arrest.
In the 2004 Florida U.S. Senate campaign, former USF president Betty Castor was attacked for failing to fire Al-Arian at the time of the WISE flap. She replied that, acting on the information available at the time, there was insufficient evidence to justify firing a tenured professor.
The FBI began investigating Al-Arian's alleged connections to Islamist groups on the US list of terrorist organizations in the early 1990s, establishing its first wiretaps for Al-Arian in 1993. In 1995, the FBI began requesting information on Al-Arian and two other professors from USF campus police while refraining from providing the local authorities with any details of the investigation. In 1996, USF officials received more information on the investigation that led university president Betty Castor to suspend Al-Arian, but no charges were brought against him.
Investigators did not share recordings and other information gathered for intelligence purposes with the criminal staff of the FBI in the late 1990s, and the university's internal report by Tampa lawyer William Reece Smith did not suggest any grounds for USF to dismiss him.
On December 19, 2001, University president Judy Genshaft Genshaft initiated proceedings to revoke Al-Arian's tenure and terminate his employment at the university. Genshaft refused to speak publicly about the Al-Arian case; a spokesman indicated that Genshaft was attempting to fire Al-Arian for supporting terrorism and damaging the university's reputation.
The University filed a lawsuit seeking a pre-emptive judgement that firing Al-Arian would not violate his First Amendment rights in August of 2002. The suit was summarily dismissed on December 15, 2002, with the judge indicating that such an advisory ruling is not within the scope of the court's function.
On February 20, 2003, the FBI arrested Al-Arian after indicting him and seven others on 50 charges including some related to terrorism. United States Attorney General John Ashcroft alleged at a press conference that Al-Arian was the North American head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the secretary of the PIJ's international organization. His trial was set for May 16, 2005. Al-Arian's lawyers stated that the delay between arrest and trial constitutes a violation of Al-Arian's right under the United States Constitution to a speedy trial. In response, Judge James Moody cited what he believed to be the complexity and uniqueness of the case as reasons for setting the trial in 2005.
On February 26, Genshaft announced that Al-Arian had been fired on the basis that his non-academic activities created a conflict of interest with the university. Allegations from his indictment were also cited.
Al-Arian's Federal District Court trial in Tampa commenced in June, 2005. He was tried along with Ghassan Ballut, Hatim Fariz and Sameeh Hammoudeh. At trial, FBI agent Kerry Myers testified that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had planned an attack inside the United States but said all information about the plot was classified and he could not discuss it. Under cross-examination, Myers admitted that Palestinian Islamic Jihad had never carried out an attack outside Israel and the "occupied territories." Agent Myers also testified that during its 10-year investigation of Al-Arian and his three co-defendants, the FBI intercepted 472,239 telephone calls on 18 tapped lines but none involved any discussion of an attack against the United States or show advanced knowledge of any attacks in the Middle East. Furthermore, the conversations occurred before Palestinian Islamic Jihad was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1995.
The six-month trial featured more than 80 witnesses and 400 transcripts of intercepted phone conversations and faxes. At the end of the prosecution's case, Al-Arian's attorneys rested without offering a defense. On December 6, 2005, after 13 days of deliberations, the jury acquitted him on eight of 17 counts, while remaining deadlocked 10-2 in favor of acquittal on the other nine. Of fifty-one charges against the four men, not one resulted in a conviction; Ballut and Hammoudeh were acquitted on all charges.
On March 2, 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy "to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist [sic], in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371." In return, the U.S. Attorney agreed to dismiss the other eight remaining charges in the superseding indictment, agreed not to charge Al-Arian with any other crimes, entered no recommendation of a fine, and recommended "that the defendant receive a sentence at the low end of the applicable guideline." As part of the deal, Al-Arian agreed to expedited deportation. The plea agreement was unsealed and accepted by Judge James S. Moody on April 17, 2006. Al-Arian's sentencing was scheduled for May 1, 2006. Al-Arian remained in custody pending his sentencing and deportation.
The deal came after 11 years of FBI investigations, wiretaps and searches, three years of trial preparation by federal prosecutors and a six-month trial, during which time Al-Arian has spent more than three years in jail, most of it in solitary confinement. Amnesty International said Al-Arian's pre-trial detention conditions "appeared to be 'gratuitously punitive' " and stated "the restrictions imposed on Dr Al-Arian appeared to go beyond what were necessary on security grounds and were inconsistent with international standards for humane treatment."
At the plea agreement hearing, U.S. Magistrate Thomas B. McCoun said, "... if you're satisfied you're guilty or you believe it's in your best interest to plead guilty ... let me know that." Al-Arian replied, "I believe it's in my best interest to enter a plea."
Al-Arian admitted that he raised money for the Islamic Jihad and conspired to hide the identities of other members of the terrorist organization, including his brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar. He also admitted knowing "that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence."
For its part, the government acknowledged that Al-Arian's activities were non-violent and that there were no victims to the charge in the plea agreement. Later that day, supporters of Al-Arian stated that the agreement was reached in part to end the suffering of the family and to reunite them in freedom.
U.S. District Judge James Moody sentenced al-Arian to the maximum 57 months in prison and gave him credit for time served. He will serve the balance of 19 months and then be deported, prosecutors said. In his ruling, Moody harshly criticized al-Arian for doing nothing to stop bombings perpetrated by Islamic Jihad. "You lifted not one finger. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard of the bombings," he said. "You are a master manipulator. The evidence is clear in this case. You were a leader of the PIJ."
Grand jury subpoena and hunger strike
Al-Arian has recently refused to testify to a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, in an investigation of the International Institute of Islamic Thought's alleged financing of terror because he believes, "his life would be in danger if he testified." Further, Al-Arian claims he has no information that could further the investigation and his attorneys argued that the grand jury subpoena violates Al-Arian's plea agreement with U.S. prosecutors. In a verbal agreement that appears in court transcripts, federal prosecutors agreed that Al-Arian would not have to testify in Virginia. These arguments were rejected by a federal judge in Florida and Al-Arian (who is diabetic) began a 60-day hunger strike on January 22, 2007, to "protest continued government harassment." As of March 20, 2007, Al-Arian, who is 6-feet tall, had lost 53 of the 202 pounds he weighed when he started his hunger strike.
USA vs. Al-Arian is the 2007 awarding-winning documentary film by Norwegian director Line Halvorsen about Al-Arian's trial.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Sami Amin Al-Arian".