- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A judge sentenced former professor Sami Al-Arian yesterday to another year and a half in prison before he will be deported in his terrorism conspiracy case, calling him “an active leader” in a Palestinian terror group.

Al-Arian, 48, was sentenced to four years and nine months, but he will get credit for the three years and three months he has served.

Attorney Linda Moreno asked U.S. District Judge James Moody to release her client now, but the judge refused and called Al-Arian “a master manipulator.”

Al-Arian signed a plea agreement April 14 in which he admitted providing support to members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a State Department-designated terrorist group responsible for hundreds of deaths in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The former University of South Florida computer engineering professor took the plea deal even though a jury failed to convict him on any of the 17 charges against him after a six-month trial last year. His family members said he took the deal to get out of jail and to end their suffering.

Al-Arian once was considered one of the most important terrorist figures brought to trial in the United States since the September 11 attacks. His indictment in 2003 Attorney General John Ashcroft hailed his as one of the first triumphs of the USA Patriot Act, enacted in the weeks after September 11.

As part of the plea agreement, he admitted being associated with the Islamic Jihad since the late 1980s and providing “services” for the group, which included filing for immigration benefits for key members, hiding the identities of those men and lying about his involvement.

Al-Arian’s attorneys argued during his trial that although he and his co-defendants were vocal advocates for the Palestinian cause, the government had no proof that they planned or knew about specific acts of violence. They said the money the defendants raised was for legitimate charities.

The judge, however, said he thought Al-Arian was “an active leader” in the Islamic Jihad who raised money for suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Dismissing contentions that the money was raised for charities, Judge Moody said, “Your only connection to widows and orphans was that you create them.”

Before the judge spoke, Al-Arian told the court that he takes responsibility for what he did and that he was grateful for the opportunities afforded him in the United States.

U.S. Attorney Paul Perez claimed victory, saying the pursuit of Al-Arian allowed federal agents to identify and disrupt a terrorist cell operating in this country. Mr. Perez said the plea vindicated the prosecution, which some had criticized as an attack on free speech.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he was a member” of the Islamic Jihad, Mr. Perez said.

It was not clear where Al-Arian will be sent when he is deported.

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