Students expressed mixed reactions to the recent arrest of University of South Florida engineering Prof. Sami Al-Arian, who was charged along with seven other men of having ties to a Palestinian terrorist group.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at a news conference yesterday afternoon, when a 50-count indictment against the eight men was unsealed.
The indictment accused the defendants of being members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has been declared by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.
In a statement released by the Department of Justice, Ashcroft said the defendants have played a significant role in aiding international terrorism.
“They are ‘material supporters’ of foreign terrorist organizations. They finance, extol and assist acts of terror,” Ashcroft said.
Four of the men, including Al-Arian, were taken into custody while the other four remain overseas. Sameeh Hammoudeh, an instructor and student at USF; Hatim Naji Fariz, a medical clinic manager in Spring Hill, Fla.; and Ghassan Zayed Ballut, a small business owner in Tinley Park, Ill., were the four taken in to custody yesterday.
Al-Arian was accused of being the leader of the United States chapter of the PIJ and the secretary of its worldwide governing group.
Al-Arian was a speaker at the second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement at the University in October.
Michigan Student Zionists President Rick Dorfman said there had been prior indications that Al-Arian was linked to terrorists.
Dorfman and LSA senior Adi Neuman filed a lawsuit against the University in the fall for allowing Al-Arian to speak on campus.
“There was ample evidence that a leading terrorist in America was coming to campus and I did everything in my power to stop him,” Dorfman said.
Justice Deparment spokesman Bryan Sierra confirmed that the investigation of the defendants has been going on for several years.
“This is the result of an extensive criminal investigation,” Sierra said. Sierra said there have been no arrangements yet for bail and said the investigation is ongoing.
He added that recent changes in the law that have allowed greater sharing of information between law enforcement agencies was a factor in bringing about the charges at this time.
Al-Arian’s arrest has raised concerns among some students regarding the possibility that he will not be given a fair trial due to recent legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act, which has given the government increased surveillance powers.
“This is very reminiscent of Rabih Haddad and what’s been happening to him,” said Business senior and Muslim Students Association President Kenan Basha, referring to the local Muslim leader who has been detained and accused of having terrorist ties.
“I think the current atmosphere in this country has resulted in the wrongful detainment of thousands of Arabs,” SAFE co-founder and LSA senior Fadi Kiblawi said.
“My main concern is whether or not he’s given a fair trial in the current anti-Arab atmosphere in this country,” Kiblawi said.