Muslim groups fast for jailed Al-Arian

A coalition of Muslim groups is calling for a worldwide fast in support of Sami Al-Arian, a former college professor convicted of raising funds for a terrorist group who remains in jail on contempt charges for refusing to testify before a Virginia grand jury investigating other financiers of terrorism.

The American Muslim Taskforce for Civil Rights and Elections on Monday asked Muslims to fast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday along with Al-Arian, who has been on a hunger strike since Jan. 21.

Task force spokesman Agha Saeed says the response has been “compassionate, caring, supportive and concern about Professor Al-Arian’s health.”

The former University of South Florida computer-science professor was arrested in 2003 and pleaded guilty last year to assisting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group. He was sentenced to time served and given an additional 18 months for refusing to testify against the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and its role with the terrorist group.

The task force calls the additional sentence “a form of harassment,” and along with Amnesty International, is demanding his release. The task force is made up of larger Muslim groups, including the American Muslim Alliance, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Circle of North America and United Muslims of America.

“The Muslim coalition is urging local communities to host information sessions at houses of worship and on college campuses to educate the public about Dr. Al-Arian’s case,” the task force said in a statement.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism analyst and author of “My Year Inside Radical Islam,” says prosecutors want Al-Arian’s testimony to demonstrate the financial links between IIIT and his group and how the Palestinian Islamic Jihad was financed.

Mr. Gartenstein-Ross called the support through fasting “simply puzzling.”

“I think on the one hand, there is a perception that Muslim civil rights are threatened, and there is a desire to support someone who might be a victim of an overzealous system, but it’s important to take a look at the record and not blindly support something,” Mr. Gartenstein-Ross said.

In sentencing Al-Arian last year, U.S. District Judge James Moody called him a “master manipulator” who “looked your neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

“This trial exposed that as a lie. … The evidence was clear in this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” Judge Moody said. “Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among the Palestinians; and you create them, not by sending your children to blow themselves out of existence. No. You exhort others to send their children.”

In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales earlier this month, Amnesty International asked for an investigation into Al-Arian’s treatment in prison, calling it “unacceptably harsh and punitive” and that he is being abused by guards “based, at least in part, on his political background.”

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