More prison time for ex-professor in terror case

Former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, has been jailed since 2003.Chris O'meara / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge sentenced former professor Sami Al-Arian on Monday to another year and a half in prison before he will be deported in his terrorism conspiracy case, calling him “an active leader” in a Palestinian terror group.

Al-Arian, 48, was sentenced to four years and nine months, but he will get credit for the three years and three months he already has served.

Attorney Linda Moreno asked the judge to release her client now, but the judge refused and called Al-Arian “a master manipulator.”

Al-Arian signed a plea agreement April 14 in which he admitted providing support to members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a State Department-designated terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The former University of South Florida computer engineering professor took the plea deal even though a jury failed to convict him on any of the 17 charges against him after a six-month trial last year. His family said he took the deal to get out of jail and end their suffering.

Considered a Patriot Act triumph
Al-Arian once was considered one of the most important terrorist figures brought to trial in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks. His indictment in 2003 was hailed by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as one of the first triumphs of the Patriot Act, enacted in the weeks after Sept. 11.

As part of the plea agreement, he admitted being associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the late 1980s and providing “services” for the group, which included filing for immigration benefits for key members, hiding the identities of those men and lying about his involvement.

Al-Arian’s attorneys argued during his trial that although he and his co-defendants were vocal advocates for the Palestinian cause, the government had no proof they planned or knew about specific acts of violence. They said the money the defendants raised was for legitimate charities.

The judge, however, said he believed Al-Arian was “an active leader” in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad who raised money for suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Dismissing the defense contentions that money was raised for charities, Moody said: “Your only connection to widows and orphans was that you create them.”

Defendant accepted responsibility
Before the judge spoke, Al-Arian told the court that he takes responsibility for what he did and said he was grateful for the opportunities afforded him in the United States.

Moreno would not comment on Moody’s statement but emphasized that jurors had refused to convict Al-Arian.

“(Federal prosecutors) essentially pulled the trigger and shot every bullet — and they missed Dr. Al-Arian,” Moreno said.

U.S. Attorney Paul Perez claimed victory, saying the pursuit of Al-Arian allowed federal agents to identify and disrupt a terrorist cell operating in this country. He said the plea vindicated the prosecution, which some had criticized as an attack on free speech.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he was a member of the PIJ,” Perez said.

It was not immediately clear where Al-Arian will be sent when he is deported. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugee parents, he was reared mostly in Egypt before coming to the United States 30 years ago. He has been jailed since his arrest in February 2003.