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    Al-Najjar: Reporting terrorism is a duty

    The former USF teacher says a journalist's description of Tampa as a hotbed of terrorism was ''a campaign of misinformation.''

    By SUSAN ASCHOFF

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The man jailed three years on secret evidence accusing him of terrorist ties said Wednesday he would feel a "moral obligation" to report terrorist activity if he knew about it.

    "It's more than a duty as a citizen," Mazen Al-Najjar told the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in the latest of a dozen speeches he has given since his release from jail Dec. 15. The former University of South Florida teacher was freed after a judge found his rights had been violated.

    Five years earlier, the Tiger Bay group had heard a speech from a man who later played a role in Al-Najjar's saga. Washington, D.C.-based journalist Steven Emerson told the group that Tampa was "a hotbed for terrorist activity" in 1996 after Emerson's television documentary, Jihad in America, became a primary source for a series in the Tampa Tribune. The Tribune stories linked USF professors and a Tampa think tank to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and ignited the federal investigation that led to Al-Najjar's 1997 arrest.

    When he spoke to Tiger Bay five years ago, Emerson talked of terrorist activity in Tampa and said more shocking news was to come, recalled Tiger Bay member Walter Sutton on Wednesday. So what, he asked Al-Najjar, were they supposed to think of Emerson now?

    "His was a campaign of misinformation," said Al-Najjar. "He has lost the respect of so many people."

    Tiger Bay member Al Frymier of Largo wanted to know why the U.S. government is still trying to deport Al-Najjar.

    The government "insisted for a number of years that this was a big case, that there would be a big trial," Al-Najjar said. Deportation is all it has left, he said.

    He and his wife, Fedaa, are appealing their deportation before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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