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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 18:05 GMT
Sami al-Arian: The 'banned professor'
Al Arian has been suspended from his university
Mr Al-Arian has been the focus of investigation for some time
Sami al-Arian, who has been arrested in the United States for alleged links to terror groups, is no stranger to controversy.

The 44-year-old computer science professor is locked in a long-running dispute with his university, in what has become a prominent battle over academic freedom.

The father of five has been banned from his university for allegedly supporting terror groups - a charge he has denied.

And, last month the University of South Florida went to court in an attempt to have the professor removed permanently - a move that has been condemned by the American Association of University Professors as which described the charges as unfounded.

Mr Arian has also been the subject of a long-running FBI investigation centring on suspicions that he funnelled money through an on-campus think-tank to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.

Islamic conferences

Last autumn, the Washington Post reported that a civil racketeering lawsuit had been filed against Mr Arian, declaring him "the highest-ranking terrorist leader within the United States of America not yet imprisoned."

The suit was filed by John Loftus a former Justice Department Nazi hunter.

Born in Kuwait, a Palestinian by heritage, Mr Arian has lived in America for nearly 28 years. He has taught at South Florida university since the 1980s.

But he came to prominence after the 11 September attacks on the US, after news reports revealed that he had been the subject of the FBI investigation.

The television reports also said that a charity set up by Mr Arian and his brother-in-law had sponsored Islamic conferences at which speakers shouted anti-Israeli slogans and paid tribute to Islamic martyrs.

Mr Arian subsequently appeared on the Fox News Channel, where he was quizzed about links to known terrorists, and asked about tapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s in which he said "Death to Israel" in Arabic.

Mr Arian has said that he has never advocated violence against others and that his words were a statement against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

He also has consistently denied any connection to terrorists.

Death threats were issued against him by angry television viewers after the Fox interview and more than 15,000 people signed petitions against him.

His college suspended him, claiming that he raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the US, and founded organisations that support terrorism.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush even weighed into the row, demanding that Mr Arian be sacked.

But Muslim and civil liberties groups argued that he had never been charged with a crime and was being persecuted for being a campaigner for Palestinian rights.

In the early 1990s, Mr Arian and his brother-in-law Mazen al-Nijjar, set up and ran a think-tank called the World and Islam Studies Enterprises. It was raided by the FBI in 1995.

A charity established by the pair in 1988 was believed by the FBI to have sent tens of thousands of dollars - maybe more - overseas, but they do not know where.

Mr Arian says the money was sent to help Palestinian children in refugee camps.

His brother-in-law, however, was jailed for three years beginning in 1997, on secret evidence that he used the organisations to support terror groups.

Mr Arian's case is one of several long-running FBI inquiries into Muslim organisations that have gathered pace since 11 September.





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