Va. prosecutors move to drop charges against ex-professor

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria have moved to drop their criminal charges against a former Florida professor who has been tied up in the U.S. court system for years on terrorism-related allegations.

In a filing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon D. Kromberg moved to dismiss the indictment against Sami al-Arian for refusing to testify before a grand jury.

Kromberg wrote that prosecutors still believed their charges had merit, but because the case had dragged on for years, they decided the “best available course of action” was to drop it and allow proceedings to begin for Arian to be deported.

Arian was accused in Florida more than a decade ago of conspiracy to commit racketeering and murder, and conspiracy to aid the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, a terrorist organization. Though he ultimately pleaded guilty in 2006 to a single count of conspiracy to receive contributions for the group, it was clear even then authorities considered his role a serious one.

A federal judge called Arian a “master manipulator” who had been a “leader” of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and sentenced him to four years and nine months in prison. Court records show he also agreed to be deported.

At the same time, federal prosecutors in Alexandria wanted Arian to testify before a grand jury investigating the International Institute of Islamic Thought. Federal officials have called that probe one of the nation’s largest terrorism-financing investigations, focusing on a Herndon-based network of Muslim charities, businesses and think tanks.

Though he was offered immunity for his testimony, Arian refused — his lawyer noting that cooperation was not part of his plea agreement in the Florida case. After some legal wrangling, prosecutors charged him for the refusal in 2008.

The case, though, has been fraught with controversy, and it has languished in a federal courthouse known as the “Rocket Docket” for the speed at which its judges typically process cases.

Defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in 2009, and records show Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who had expressed some skepticism about the charges, indicated at the time she would “issue a written opinion on the motion in the near future.” She had not done so as of Friday evening.

Court records show Arian has been on home detention with GPS monitoring, but it is unclear where he is living.

Though he was born in Kuwait and is a Palestinian by heritage, he has lived in the United States for decades.

His defense attorney did not return a message seeking comment late Friday.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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