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Ex-Professor, 3 Others Face Terrorism Trial

U.S. prosecutors will begin their case today in Florida against the four, who are accused of supporting a militant anti-Israel group.

June 06, 2005|John-Thor Dahlburg | Times Staff Writer

According to prosecutors, Islamic Concern Project, a charity founded by Al-Arian, sent money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, families of suicide bombers and families of Islamic Jihad members imprisoned in Israel.

A Tampa think tank started by Al-Arian also allegedly assisted Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was designated a terrorist organization and threat to the Middle East peace process by President Clinton in a Jan. 23, 1995, executive order.

The indictment paints a portrait of Al-Arian starkly different from the affable human rights activist depicted by supporters. At an April 1991 meeting in Cleveland, for instance, Al-Arian allegedly called on attendees "to damn the allies of America and Israel to death," and said Muslims should go to the Holy Land not for tourism but for jihad, or holy war.

In a November 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Al-Arian said his rhetoric had been misunderstood.

"When you say 'death to Israel,' you mean death to the system that is oppressing the Palestinian people," he said.

According to the indictment, some defendants used the University of South Florida to obtain "cover" as faculty members or students.

They also allegedly used academic meetings at the institution as a pretext for inviting other Palestinian Islamic Jihad members and associates to the United States.

Al-Arian's presence at the Tampa university became an issue in the 2004 Senate campaign, when Republican candidate Mel Martinez accused Betty Castor, the school's former president and his Democratic challenger, of failing to fire a suspected terrorist. Martinez won.

Ahmed Bedier, director of the Tampa office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said many of the Tampa Bay area's estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Muslims were worried that Al-Arian might already be guilty in jurors' minds not because of what he may have done, but because of who he was.

"In general, it's hard for a Muslim to get a fair trial in America after 9/11," Bedier said.

Al-Arian and Fariz had asked Moody to move the trial out of Tampa because the case had received so much pretrial publicity. On May 23, the judge refused, saying the questioning of prospective jurors had resulted in a pool that could give the former professor and the other defendants a fair trial.

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