tampabay.com

Al-Arian's wife bids goodbye before moving to Egypt

Before Cairo, she and the two youngest children will visit Sami Al-Arian in jail in Virginia.

By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published June 30, 2007


TAMPA - Friday night, when Nahla Al-Arian stepped to the microphone at her going-away party at the Islamic Community of Tampa to address about 100 well-wishers, she tried to put a happy face on moving to Cairo, Egypt.

"We leave for a new life, " she began. But she fought back tears as she continued: "My heart is aching. I'm an American and it's hard to go."

Today, she and her two youngest children fly to Virginia, where they will spend a few weeks with her jailed husband, Sami Al-Arian, before she and the children leave for Egypt .

The departure of Nahla, 46, marks the end of 21 years here.

In 1986, the Al-Arians came from North Carolina so Sami could teach computer engineering at the University of South Florida. They quickly became community leaders and activists for Arab and Muslim causes and other issues.

The Al-Arians lived in Temple Terrace and had two more children. Sami Al-Arian founded a Muslim school and a think tank on Middle Eastern topics at USF.

Then, in 1994, a documentary on public television alleged that Al-Arian was linked to terrorist activity in Israel.

In 1995, Ramadan Shallah, an associate of Al-Arian's at the USF think tank, left for Syria to become head of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The FBI began investigating.

In 2003, he was arrested, accused of helping finance the violent activities of the PIJ.

In 2005, after a six-month trial in Tampa , a jury acquitted Al-Arian on eight charges of terrorism and deadlocked on nine.

In 2006, after three years in solitary confinement with no convictions, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to providing nonviolent services to associates of the PIJ.

After 11 more months in prison, he was to be deported in April 2007, but is still being jailed in Virginia on civil contempt charges, beyond his sentence.

Nahla Al-Arian concluded her speech with this: "Thank all of you for sticking with us through our darkest times. When I leave, please do not forget Sami in prison. We are counting on your commitment to justice."