- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Officials at the University of South Florida yesterday asked a federal court if it can fire a tenured Palestinian professor accused of having ties to charities that have been linked with international terrorists.

Professor Sami Al-Arian, a U.S. resident since 1975, has never been charged with a crime, but is the focus of a federal probe over his ties to several Islamic charities, including the International Committee for Palestine, Islamic Concern Project and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise.

The charities are suspected of serving as front organizations to hide Saudi Arabia's suspected ties to a money-laundering operation that raised millions for anti-Israel terrorists, federal authorities said.

Former federal prosecutor John J. Loftus said the Islamic charities some based on Virginia came to the attention of federal authorities during the Clinton administration, but the FBI was not allowed to pursue an investigation.

"If federal agents had been allowed to conduct the investigation they wanted in 1995, they would have made the connection between the Saudi government and those charities," said Mr. Loftus, now a St. Petersburg, Fla., lawyer who filed a lawsuit accusing a Florida charity of fraud.

"Had the charities been shut down, they would have been unable to raise the millions that since have been used by terrorists in hundreds of suicide attacks," he said.

In its complaint in U.S. District Court in Tampa, the university asked for a "declaratory release" that it can fire Mr. Al-Arian without violating his rights to free speech. The university maintains that he wrote a 1995 letter seeking funds so that suicide bomber missions could continue. It has not released the letter.

Mr. Al-Arian, who is on paid leave, yesterday denied ever advocating violence, telling reporters the university was seeking his dismissal because of politics and that the letter was never sent. The American Association of University Professors has threatened to censure the school if he is fired.

Federal prosecutors in Tampa acknowledged in February that Mr. Al-Arian was under investigation, but declined to discuss the probe.

Earlier this year, federal agents began an investigation known as "Operation Green Quest," into the funding by charities of suspected terrorists, raiding 14 Islamic businesses in Virginia. Agents from the U.S. Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI, coordinated by a Treasury Department counterterrorism task force, seized two dozen computers, along with hundreds of bank statements and other documents.

Warrants served by agents in the Virginia raids targeted, among others, the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, a major funding source for Mr. Al-Arian's World and Islam Studies Institute.

The warrants also sought information on Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Islamic Concern Project, and the SAAR Foundation, an educational and health charity founded by the Al-Rajihi family of Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic Concern Project and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise have been named by the State Department as front organizations that raised funds for militant Islamic-Palestinian groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. They have been tied to the diversion of millions of dollars to terrorists for weapons, safe haven, training and equipment.

Nail Al-Jubeir, spokesman for the Saudi information office in Washington, has called the accusations "simply nonsense." He said there was "not one iota of evidence" to support the charges, which he described as "nothing more than an effort to smear" the Saudi government.

Mazen Al-Najjar, director of the Islamic Concern Project, is Mr. Al-Arian's brother-in-law. He was detained by the INS on visa violations after the September 11 attacks. He is being held at a detention center, but is scheduled to be deported.

In 1995, the FBI said in a sealed affidavit the Islamic Concern Project and World and Islam Studies Enterprise working with charities in Virginia committed fraud and "served as a vehicle by which [Islamic Jihad] raised funds to support terrorist activities in the occupied territories."

The FBI said checks drawn on a bank account of the International Committee for Palestine had been cashed by people in the Middle East. Agents said the checks had been signed by Mr. Al-Arian.

The Loftus suit, filed March 20 under the Florida Consumer Protection Act, accused the Saudi government in a scheme involving charities in Virginia and Florida that routed cash to terrorists.

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