Newspaper report links Al-Arian to terrorist group
By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Citing anonymous Israeli intelligence sources, the Tampa Tribune reported Sunday that University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian helped establish and then served on the governing council of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
One of the intelligence sources also told the newspaper that Al-Arian's imprisoned brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was a conduit between Jihad terrorists and Jihad headquarters in Damascus, Syria.
Al-Arian on Sunday called the allegations a "campaign of lies and fabrications." He referred to a statement in the Tribune story that said "the Israelis have not released any documentation to support their allegations against Al-Arian and Al-Najjar."
"This is the same type of unsubstantiated information that we've had to deal with for years," Al-Arian said.
The Tribune story said the council Al-Arian helped establish, called Majlis Shura, began in the early 1990s and offered financial and organizational advice. The sources said Al-Arian's role was in political ideology and fundraising, not in the hands-on carrying out of terrorist activity.
Al-Arian also delivered computer equipment to the Jihad leaders "en route to a 1994 meeting of the council in Tehran," the sources told the Tribune.
The intelligence sources expressed discontent that U.S. authorities investigating Al-Arian have not acted on the information. Steve Cole, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, declined to comment on any aspect of the story.
The Kuwaiti-born Al-Arian was the focus of a federal investigation in the mid 1990s, when agents suspected that an Islamic think tank he and Al-Najjar operated at USF was a front for Middle Eastern terrorists.
A former head of the think tank, Ramadan Abdulah Shallah, left Tampa in 1995 and resurfaced as the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization.
Al-Arian also was accused of raising money for Palestinian groups with ties to terrorism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he made fiery speeches that denounced Israel, including one in which he said: "Victory to Islam. Death to Israel."
More recently, Al-Arian, a tenured computer science professor, became the focus of death threats after his alleged ties to terrorists were repeated on national television a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. The USF board of trustees voted 12-1 in December to recommend firing Al-Arian.
In February, federal authorities said Al-Arian remained under investigation but would not elaborate. Al-Arian, who applied for U.S. citizenship several years ago, has never been charged with a crime. Al-Najjar remains in a federal prison awaiting the outcome of his deportation case for overstaying his student visa.
USF president Judy Genshaft could not be reached Sunday. She has indicated she is leaning toward firing Al-Arian, who is currently suspended from USF.
USF spokesman Michael Reich said Genshaft evaluates all new information and gives it the weight it deserves. "We'll do the same with these allegations," he said.
The intelligence sources in Israel insisted on anonymity for several reasons, including security, the Tribune said. The Tribune, like the St. Petersburg Times, has a general policy against using anonymous sources. In a note to readers, the Tribune said the story was of enough importance to make an exception.
Times executive editor Paul Tash said it's difficult for the target of anonymous accusations to respond, and hard for readers to evaluate the merits of the charges if they don't know who is making them.
Tash said the Times decided Sunday to write about allegations made to the Tribune by anonymous sources because, "it could have some bearing on a controversy that is playing out in the Tampa Bay area."
Al-Arian said Israeli intelligence sources might fabricate evidence against someone who supports the Palestinian cause.
He said he hoped "the America people can read between the lines."
-- Graham Brink can be contacted at (813) 226-3365 or email@example.com.
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