April 17, 2006

Ex-professor pleads guilty in Florida Jihad case

By Robert Green

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Former Florida university
professor Sami al-Arian has pleaded guilty to aiding the
Palestinian group Islamic Jihad and agreed to be deported, U.S.
officials said on Monday.

Al-Arian and three co-defendants were charged in 2003 with
helping the group carry out attacks in Israel. In December, a
federal jury in Tampa found al-Arian not guilty on eight
charges and failed to reach a verdict on nine others after a
six-month trial.

Prosecutors, whose failure to convict al-Arian after the
jury trial was seen as a stiff blow to the U.S. government's
attempts to prosecute terrorism suspects, hailed the plea
bargain agreement as a victory.

"Al-Arian has now admitted providing assistance to help the
Palestinian Islamic Jihad ... as the government has alleged
from the start," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Alice Fisher
said in a written statement.

The United States has designated Islamic Jihad a terrorist
organization. When the charges against al-Arian and the others
were made public three years ago, then-U.S. Attorney General
John Ashcroft said the group was responsible for over 100
deaths in Israel, including two Americans.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing
that killed nine people and wounded 60 outside a restaurant in
Tel Aviv on Monday.

Al-Arian pleaded guilty in a closed hearing before a U.S.
magistrate in Tampa on Friday, U.S. officials said. The
agreement averts another trial on the deadlocked charges.

The former University of South Florida professor admitted
that he "... conspired to make and receive contributions of
funds, goods and services to or for the benefit of specially
designated terrorists," according to court documents.

The remaining eight counts against him will be dismissed
under the plea agreement.


U.S. District Judge James Moody accepted the plea on Monday
and scheduled sentencing for May 1. The agreement calls for 46
to 57 months in prison but al-Arian will probably get credit
for the three years he has already spent in jail since his

It was not clear when al-Arian, 48, will be deported or
where he will go.

He was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents and grew up in
Egypt before coming to the United States. He is married with
five children, who were all born in the United States, making
them American citizens.

The case against al-Arian and the others was based largely
on thousands of hours of wiretapped phone calls, intercepted
e-mails, faxes and bank records gathered over a decade. It was
considered a key test of the government's surveillance powers,
which were strengthened by the USA Patriot Act.

Co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Ballut were
found not guilty on all charges in December. Hatam Fariz was
acquitted on 25 of the 33 charges against him.

Hammoudeh is awaiting deportation on fraud charges and
Ballut has returned to Chicago. Fariz is scheduled to go to
trial in August on the remaining charges.

While he was at the university, al-Arian founded the World
and Islamic Studies Enterprise in Tampa, a pro-Palestinian
group. He was fired by the university after his arrest.