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He came to America in 1975 to study and became a professor. He was admired by students and led Islamic causes.
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003
TAMPA -- Sami Al-Arian was born in Kuwait in 1958, the son of Palestinian refugees, who had moved there a decade earlier upon the birth of Israel.
As stateless Palestinians, the family enjoyed few rights and was expelled from Kuwait in 1966, Al-Arian has said, when his father refused to become an intelligence informant.
They landed in Egypt, where by age 16 Al-Arian amassed a 1,500-book library but faced dim prospects for pursuing the medical degree he desired.
In Egypt, Al-Arian met his wife, Nahla. He began studying engineering when a cousin in Illinois suggested he continue his studies there.
Al-Arian arrived in 1975, completing his degree at Southern Illinois University, before heading to North Carolina State University in Raleigh to earn a master's and Ph.D. He had never heard of USF until he applied and received a teaching job there in 1985.
He enjoyed a good reputation among students, who gave him high marks on evaluations, and was named Teacher of the Year in 1993 by USF's College of Engineering. But it was not long after that the trouble started.
In 1995, the FBI raided Al-Arian's home, along with the offices of the Islamic Committee for Palestine and the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, two groups he led in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Five years earlier, Al-Arian had founded World and Islam Studies Enterprise, which over five years published a journal and attracted speakers on Middle Eastern issues. But the government said both WISE, as it was known, and ICP, promoted terrorist causes.
ICP meetings drew Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, convicted of plotting to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, and Sheik Abdul Aziz Odeh, considered the spiritual leader for Islamic Jihad.
In May of 1995, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, one of the leaders of WISE, left that organization for the Middle East and later emerged as the head of the the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Arian, 45, is not a U.S. citizen, though his children are. His visa is current. He has not previously been charged with a crime connected to the terrorist allegations. He has said ICP drew attention to Muslim issues around the world. And WISE was indeed regarded as a respected source of information about the Islamic world.
During these years, Al-Arian was speaking at rallies and protests regularly, making what many considered to be dangerous remarks. "Death to Israel," he proclaimed in one speech. In another, he said, "Let us damn America, let us damn Israel, let us damn them and their allies until death."
He has said the statements, spoken in Arabic, were meant figuratively, and not meant to incite terrorist acts.
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Al-Arian appeared on the O'Reilly Factor television show on the nationally televised Fox News.
The show prompted death threats to Al-Arian and strong protests to the school. Al-Arian was suspended with pay by school officials citing safety concerns, and has remained on suspension since.
-- Information from Times wire services was used in this report.