Al-Arian's sentencing set for this morning


Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 30, 2006 at 11:40 p.m.
TAMPA - The long terrorism conspiracy case of Sami Al-Arian is drawing to a close and the former Tampa college professor could soon walk out of his jail cell and into the hands of immigration officers to be deported.
Al-Arian, 48, a former University of South Florida computer engineering professor, is expected to be sentenced this morning after pleading guilty April 14 to providing support to members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He took the plea deal despite a jury failing to convict him of any of the 17 charges against him after five months of trial last year. His family said he took the deal to get out of jail and end their suffering.
It is still not clear where Al-Arian will be sent, said Linda Moreno, one of his attorneys. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian refugee parents, he was reared mostly in Egypt before coming to the United States 30 years ago. He has been jailed since his arrest in February 2003.
He may spend a bit more time behind bars before leaving the country. The plea deal calls for prison time, but Moreno said she hoped the sentence would be end up being "near time served."
As part of the plea agreement, Al-Arian admitted to being associated with the PIJ from the late 1980s and providing "services" for the group, which included filing for immigration benefits for key members of the PIJ, hiding the identities of those men and lying about his involvement.
Those men included Ramadan Shallah, a colleague at Al-Arian's Palestinian think tank in Tampa who later emerged as the head of the PIJ in the Middle East.
Al-Arian admitted to considerably less guilt than prosecutors tried to prove at trial. They described Al-Arian as the leader of a North American cell of the PIJ, raising money for suicide bombings and spreading the word in what was described as a "cycle of terror."
Al-Arian was acquitted in December of eight of the 17 federal charges against him while the jury deadlocked on the rest. He pleaded guilty to one count in the indictment that charges him with "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad."
Throughout the trial last year, Al-Arian's attorneys argued although he and his co-defendants were vocal advocates in the United States for the Palestinian cause, the government had no proof they planned or knew about specific acts of violence. They said the money they raised and sent to the Palestinian territories was for legitimate charities.
Two of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges. The other, Hatem Naji Fariz, was acquitted on 25 counts while the jury deadlocked on eight others. The case against him on the remaining counts is pending.
"We are continuing to negotiate and hope we can resolve the case without going to trial, but until it's done there's always that possibility," said Kevin Beck, one of Fariz's attorneys.
The failure to convict Al-Arian was a stinging rebuke for the federal government. His case was once hailed by authorities as a triumph of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, which allowed secret wiretaps and other information gathered by intelligence agents to be used in criminal prosecutions.
Both sides claimed victory after the plea deal was announced.
"We're proud of our work and of the fight in this case," Moreno said Friday.
"And I'm very tired."

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