Suit against Al-Arian dismissed
By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
A former federal prosecutor garnered extensive publicity in March when he filed a lawsuit against University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, accusing him of using bogus charities to funnel money to terrorists.
Less than three months later, a judge has dismissed the lawsuit.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Perry Little disputed the claim of former prosecutor John Loftus, who alleged that Al-Arian personally hurt him by using state-regulated groups to solicit and launder money for terrorists in Syria.
In an unusual dismissal, Judge Little ruled that Loftus failed to show the essence of his claim -- that Al-Arian personally injured him.
"That's unusual -- that's because the claim is unusual," said Bill Jung, a Tampa attorney who handles civil and criminal cases.
After signing the dismissal late Monday, the judge gave Loftus 20 days to file an amended lawsuit, stating specifically how he was hurt by Al-Arian's alleged actions and why he should be allowed to sue.
Loftus said he was not surprised by the decision, and not deterred.
He acknowledges the suit was too broad, and he says he plans to refile a more narrow claim with necessary legal arguments and more evidence connecting Al-Arian to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"He had a much more significant role in 9/11 than anyone ever thought," he said.
That evidence, he said, includes a newly published book by Israeli scholar Meir Hatina. The book, Islam and Salvation in Palestine: The Islam Jihad Movement, describes Al-Arian as one of the founders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Loftus said other evidence includes records of a credit card stolen from another USF professor. Those records, he said, indicate someone made thousands of dollars' worth of calls from California to Al-Arian, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Al-Arian, suspended from teaching while USF considers whether to fire him, adamantly denies any link with terrorists.
"At least I've got it out of the way," Al-Arian said of the lawsuit he spent $5,000 to defend. "I've never doubted it was going to go away."
Al-Arian became the focus of death threats after his alleged ties to terrorists were aired on national television weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. USF has delayed a decision on his status.
Al-Arian was under federal investigation in the mid 1990s, when agents suspected an Islamic think tank he operated at USF was a front for Middle Eastern terrorists. He said that investigation was closed without finding evidence to support that claim.
In February, federal authorities said Al-Arian remained under investigation but would not elaborate. He has never been charged with a crime.
Loftus said he filed the lawsuit in late March to pressure the government into taking action against Al-Arian and Saudi Arabian organizations "that helped fund terrorism." He said he wants the state to shut down any of those organizations that still exist and to force Al-Arian to surrender assets until it is determined whether they were generated from illegal activity. According to the Loftus suit, Al-Arian used a registered nonprofit organization to solicit funds in the 1990s for the International Committee for Palestine, which was not registered with the state.
Loftus said in the suit that the International Committee for Palestine was the "alter ego of the American branch of the international criminal organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad."
After Loftus sued in March, Al-Arian's attorney, Robert McKee, filed a motion to dismiss the case. After a brief court hearing last week, the judge agreed and signed an order this week.
Loftus said he plans to file a new suit that will explain how he was personally injured by Al-Arian.
Among other things, he says Al-Arian laundered money for the Sept. 11 hijackers. He said the terrorist attacks hurt his businesses -- running tour groups and giving lectures.
"If he wants to make some stuff up, he can have at it," McKee said. "He didn't lose any money. He hasn't been injured."
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