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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 19:17 GMT
US charges 'Jihad financers'
Al-Arian (R) being arrested
Al-Arian has been under investigation for many years
The authorities in the United States have indicted a Palestinian university professor with financing and supporting Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Sami al-Arian - who taught at a Florida university - is one of eight people charged in the 50-count indictment that also lists the names of top Islamic Jihad leaders.

Mr al-Arian - described by the indictment as the US leader of the group - was arrested early on Thursday alongside three other US residents. The others live abroad.

Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference the arrests were part of the US war on terror, including efforts to stamp out terrorist finances.

BANNED PROFESSOR
Al-Arian has been subject of lengthy FBI investigation
Used to run an Islamic charity
Accused of funnelling money to Palestinian groups

Mr al-Arian, 45, has been under investigation since the early 1990s when he co-founded a now defunct Islamic studies think-tank, which the US Government considered a frontline organisation that raised funds for Islamic Jihad.

He has denied any links to terrorists and told reporters "it's all about politics," as he was led away in handcuffs.

If convicted, the men face life in prison.

Banned

The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in Tampa, Florida, was unsealed on Thursday.

Mr Ashcroft said the men were accused of "operating a criminal racketeering enterprise since 1984 that supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad and with conspiracy to kill and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support to the group, extortion, perjury and other charges".

The charges mention the killing of 100 people in Israel by members of the group - designated a terrorist organisation in the US.

Mr al-Arian has lived in the United States since 1975.

He was banned from the University of South Florida grounds - where he taught computer engineering - after the 11 September attacks in a controversial decision condemned by human rights groups.

Mr al-Arian and his brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, raided by the FBI in 1995.

Mr al-Najjar - who also taught at the same university - was kept been detained without charge for about five years before being deported from the US last August.

Al-Arian (R) and al-Najjar in 2000
The academics complain of discrimination
The academic caused controversy after being taped at a conference saying "Death to Israel" in Arabic.

But he has denied having any ties to terrorist groups and has denied supporting Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

And he argues he is being discriminated for his political beliefs.

"I'm an Arab, I'm Palestinian, I'm a Muslim. That's not a popular thing to be these days," he said last year when Mr al-Najjar was deported.

"Do I have rights or don't I have rights?

"Right now it seems like a majority of the people think 'No, you don't have rights because you don't agree with us.'

"We will continue to fight this. I believe the issue is still academic freedom, the right to espouse views however unpopular," he vowed then.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"No links that we know of so far with al-Qaeda"



SEE ALSO:
The eight terrorism suspects
20 Feb 03 |  Americas
US deports Palestinian academic
23 Aug 02 |  Americas
Experts tackle terrorist funds
11 Feb 03 |  Business
US Muslims suffer backlash
19 Nov 02 |  Americas
Who are Islamic Jihad?
16 Nov 02 |  profiles



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