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Sami Al-Arian

Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian is a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida (USF). Dr. Al-Arian was born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugee parents, and has lived in the United States since 1975.

Dr. Al-Arian appeared on the popular polemical television show The O'Reilly Factor on September 26, 2001, shortly after the September 11th attacks. On the program, host Bill O'Reilly resurrected 15 year old charges that accused Al-Arian of using a now-defunct university affiliated Islamic think tank that he headed as a front for Palestinian terrorist organizations. USF and the INS had both long since completed formal investigations of that charge and found no wrongdoing; the FBI had been investigating Al-Arian off and on since, but no charges were ever filed. Though Al-Arian denied all links to terrorists, O'Reilly made it clear that he believed Al-Arian has terrorist connections.

Following the program's airing, USF received several death threats for Al-Arian. University president Judy Genshaft placed Dr. Al-Arian on paid leave and barred him from the campus on September 27, ostensibly for his own safety and the safety of others at the university.

On December 19, 2001, Genshaft initiated proceedings to revoke Al-Arian's tenure and terminate his employment at the university. Genshaft has refused to speak publicly about the Al-Arian case; a spokesman indicated that Genshaft was attempting to fire Al-Arian for supporting terrorism and damaging the university's reputation.

The University filed a lawsuit seeking a pre-emptive judgement that firing Dr. Al-Arian would not violate his First Amendment rights in August of 2002. The suit was summarily dismissed on December 15, 2002, with the judge indicating that such a ruling is not within the scope of the court's function.

The American Association of University Professors has indicated that it will formally censure USF if Al-Arian is fired, a move that would likely dissuade many top professors from teaching at USF. On January 6, 2003, the United Faculty of Florida, the union representing Al-Arian and other USF professors, filed a formal grievance against Genshaft, alleging that continuing to bar Al-Arian from the campus is tantamount to continued disciplinary action without due process, that the disciplinary actions are a violation of Al-Arian's academic freedoms, and that the university has discriminated against Al-Arian due to his ethnic background.

On February 20, 2003, Dr. Al-Arian was arrested by the FBI after he and seven others were indicted on 50 terrorism-related charges. United States Attorney General John Ashcroft alleged at a press conference that Dr. Al-Arian is the North American head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the secretary of the PIJ's international organization.

On February 26, 2003, Genshaft announced that Al-Arian had been fired on the basis that his nonacademic activities created a conflict of interest with USF. Allegations from his indictment were also cited. Representatives from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) indicated that the AAUP does not feel due process has been followed in Al-Arian's case. It did not however formally censure USF at its 2003 annual meeting. Rather, it condemned the institution.

Al-Arian is being held without bail at Coleman Federal Correction Complex. His trial is set for January 2005. Al-Arian's lawyers have stated that the delay between arrest and trial constitutes a violation of Al-Arian's right under the United States Constitution to a speedy trial. In response, Judge James Moody cited what he believed to be the complexity and uniqueness of the case for setting the trial in 2005.

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