IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

U.S. to deport Palestinian rights activist

Federal authorities have decided to deport a former Florida professor and Palestinian rights activist after failing to convict him on charges he helped finance terror attacks in Israel.
Sami al-Arian, in a January 2002 file photo.Chris O'meara / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Federal authorities have decided to deport a former Florida professor and Palestinian rights activist after failing to convict him on charges he helped finance terror attacks in Israel.

Sami Al-Arian, who had met with U.S. presidents and other political leaders before his terrorism indictment in 2003, has reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a lesser charge and be deported, two lawyers familiar with the case said Friday. The deal requires the approval of a judge.

It was not clear where Al-Arian would be sent. He is a Palestinian, born in Kuwait.

Al-Arian has remained in jail since he was indicted in 2003, even though a Florida jury 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.

Justice Department and immigration officials would not comment on the deportation agreement, nor would 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.

No one answered the phone at the home of Al-Arian's wife, Nahla.

The lawyers who revealed the deal spoke on condition of anonymity, because the agreement has not been made public by the court.

Charged with running Palestinian Islamic Jihad cell
The case against Al-Arian once was hailed as a triumph of the anti-terror USA 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 militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian had been under FBI surveillance at least since the mid-1990s.

At the end of a five-month trial, however, jurors said the mountain of intercepted phone calls and other materials did not link Al-Arian and the others directly to violent acts, including a Palestinian Islamic Jihad truck bomb attack in 1995 that killed seven Israelis and an American, Alisa Flatow.

Flatow's parents won a judgment of more than $247.5 million in U.S. courts against Iran, which was found to have instigated the attack, but have been unable to collect most of the money.

Al-Arian has lived in the United States for 30 years and holds permanent residency status. He was reared mostly in Egypt.

University fired him after indictment
He had been a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida 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 had been in the White House on four separate occasions and met Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Al-Arian also had contact with almost two dozen political and government leaders, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Trent Lott and Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert and his predecessor, former Rep. Newt Gingrich.

The handling of Al-Arian's 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 USF president when Al-Arian was on the faculty.