May 1, 2006

Ex-professor sentenced in Jihad case

By Robert Green

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - Former Florida university
professor Sami al-Arian was sentenced to four years and nine
months in prison on Monday for aiding the Palestinian group
Islamic Jihad.

U.S. District Judge James Moody sentenced al-Arian to the
maximum 57 months in prison but gave him credit for 38 months
he has already served. He will have to serve the balance, 19
months, before being deported, prosecutors said.

Al-Arian, 48, was arrested in February 2003 on charges he
gave money and support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which
has been designated a terrorist organization by the United

The case against al-Arian was considered a key test of the
U.S. government's surveillance powers, which were strengthened
by the Patriot Act following the September 11 attacks on the
United States. The case was built on thousands of hours of
wiretapped phone calls and intercepted e-mails gathered over a

Al-Arian was acquitted on eight of the 17 charges against
him last December after a six-month trial with three

On April 14, al-Arian pleaded guilty to a single count of
conspiracy to provide services to the PIJ and agreed to be
deported. In return, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the
remaining eight charges against him.

It was not certain where al-Arian will be sent when he is
deported. His parents are Palestinians but he was born in
Kuwait and grew up in Egypt.

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."

In a brief statement before he was sentenced, al-Arian
praised the U.S. justice system and said he was grateful for
the opportunities America had provided his family.

"The American chapter in my life is about to close," he
said, adding, "I'm very proud of my contributions."

Al-Arian was a professor at the University of South Florida
in Tampa from 1986 until his arrest in 2003, when he was fired.

When he was arrested, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft
described him as the North American leader of the Islamic Jihad
and said the group was responsible for over 100 deaths in
Israel, including two Americans.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who replaced Ashcroft,
said last week he was satisfied with the plea deal because it
would stop al-Arian from giving any further aid to the PIJ.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Paul Perez said the plea
agreement and sentence showed the U.S. government's commitment
to bring terrorists to justice.

"I'm pleased he got the maximum. I think the judge got it,"
Perez said.

Al-Arian is married and has five children, who are all U.S.
citizens because they were born here. The three oldest children
are adults and are expected to stay in the United States.

Al-Arian's plea is the first guilty verdict federal
prosecutors have gotten from the 53 charges against the four
defendants in the original indictment.

Co-defendants Sameeh Hammoudeh and Ghassan Ballut were
found not guilty on all 36 charges against them and Hatem Fariz
was acquitted on 25 of his 33 charges.

Fariz is scheduled to go on trial this August on the
remaining charges unless he also reaches a plea deal with the