Ex-Professor in Palestinian Case Is Freed After 5 Years
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
A former Florida professor once accused of being a leading Palestinian terrorist was released from custody yesterday for the first time in more than five years, hours ahead of a judge's deadline for the government to explain why he was still being held by immigration officials.
Sami al-Arian is awaiting trial on charges of refusing to testify before a grand jury about a cluster of Muslim organizations in Northern Virginia. A federal judge on several occasions has expressed skepticism about the government's contempt charges, and last week she ordered immigration authorities to explain by yesterday afternoon why they were continuing to hold Arian.
Arian will be subject to home detention at his daughter's residence in Northern Virginia and monitored electronically while he awaits trial.
"We are obviously relieved and delighted," said Arian's attorney, Jonathan Turley, who did not make his client available for comment. Turley said the release would allow Arian to see his son off to college and to spend the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with his family.
Federal prosecutors, who strongly opposed Arian's release, declined to comment yesterday.
Arian has been in federal custody since February 2003, when prosecutors charged him with being a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
A jury acquitted him on some charges in 2005 and was deadlocked on others. He eventually struck a plea bargain and admitted to lesser charges of conspiring to aid the Palestinian Islamic Jihad by helping a family member with links to the group get immigration benefits and by lying to a reporter about another person's links to the organization.
He was sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
While he was serving that sentence, federal prosecutors in Virginia sought his testimony for a grand jury investigation. Arian refused to testify despite immunity, and prosecutors filed criminal contempt charges this year.
Arian, who once taught computer science at the University of South Florida, finished the sentence, and Turley argued that immigration authorities had no basis to detain Arian and should either deport him to Egypt or release him pending his trial.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema questioned last month whether the contempt charges violated the terms of Arian's plea agreement, which barred the Justice Department from standing in the way of his deportation after the completion of his sentence.