St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Stain of Al-Arian on Martinez, new Castor ad claims

She holds her Senate rival responsible for the accused terrorist's being seen with presidential candidate Bush in 2000.

Published October 12, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Betty Castor unveiled a new statewide TV ad Monday, accusing Republican rival Mel Martinez of allowing suspected terrorist Sami Al-Arian to campaign with President Bush in 2000.

Castor's ad, calling Martinez chairman of Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in Florida, shows a photo of Bush and Al-Arian standing side-by-side at the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City on March 12, 2000. At least a dozen other people are visible in the picture, including first lady Laura Bush and Al-Arian's wife and children.

"As chair of George Bush's Florida campaign, Martinez allowed suspected terrorist Sami Al-Arian to campaign with Bush," the narrator says, "years after Al-Arian was suspended by Betty Castor."

At the time the picture was taken, Al-Arian had been under federal investigation for six years for suspected ties to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group blamed for more than 100 suicide-bombing deaths in Israel.

The ad also blasts Martinez for dismissing the significance of Al-Arian's attending a meeting with other Muslim activists in the White House complex in 2001 with the president's senior political adviser, Karl Rove. The session, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House, was described as a Muslim outreach meeting.

The ad ends, "Mel Martinez: Can we believe anything he says?"

This is the third Castor ad about Al-Arian, underscoring the importance of national security in the campaign. It is part of an effort to blunt Martinez's criticism that she responded too slowly to Al-Arian's suspected terrorist ties while she was president of the University of South Florida and he was teaching there. Her campaign distributed it to reporters in Tallahassee.

Martinez's campaign called Castor's ad "a complete fabrication" and an attempt to shift attention away from her own "failed leadership" in dealing with a suspected terrorist cell on the USF campus.

"Mel Martinez never allowed Sami Al-Arian to do anything, unlike Betty Castor, who allowed Al-Arian to operate on her campus for six years," said Martinez spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe.

Coxe noted that Martinez was one of nine co-chairs of the 2000 Bush Florida campaign. She said Martinez had no role in Al-Arian's campaigning with Bush and that the scene shown in the photo happened spontaneously on the campaign trail.

Coxe also said Castor wrongly claims she suspended Al-Arian when she actually placed him on paid administrative leave, which is not a disciplinary action, and he was allowed to be on campus.

Castor has said she did not have sufficient grounds to fire Al-Arian, and her successor as USF president, Judy Genshaft, did not fire him until he was indicted last year on charges of being the North American head of the Islamic Jihad.

Martinez's strategists say they are happy to wage the Senate campaign on issues of terrorism and national security, which they believe favor him over Castor.

Times staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.