University fires tenured professor accused of terrorism

By Gail Epstein Nieves Knight Ridder Newspapers MIAMI _ Sami al-Arian, the suspended University of South Florida professor arrested last week and accused of being the U.S. leader of a Palestinian terror group, was fired from his tenured teaching post on Wednesday. USF executives said they acted after a 50-count federal indictment unsealed in Tampa on Feb. 20 gave them added ammunition against al-Arian, a computer engineering professor whom they have been trying to fire since 2001. “Dr. al-Arian has repeatedly abused his position,” USF President Judy Genshaft said in a statement. “He has misused the university’s name, reputation, resources and personnel … No longer will he be able to hide behind the shield of academic freedom.” Al-Arian, 45, is being held in a federal detention facility pending a bond hearing and could not be reached for comment. Al-Arian, a Palestinian born in Kuwait and educated in Egypt, is charged with seven other men with raising money and giving support to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The charges link the terror group to the killings of 110 people _ including two Americans _ in and around Israel. The indictment accuses the men of using the university as a cover for Islamic Jihad fund-raising activities, primarily through the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, a purported academic think tank al-Arian helped establish at the university. But Genshaft’s decision to fire al-Arian was lambasted by USF’s faculty union as well as the American Association of University Professors, a national group. Spokesmen for both groups said university executives were wrong to use mere accusations in the 121-page indictment as evidence that al-Arian had done wrong and deserved to be summarily fired. In USF’s notice of termination to al-Arian, provost and Vice President S. David Stamps cited 56 allegations _ enough to fill an entire single-spaced, typed page _ from the indictment as evidence that al-Arian frequently “used the University of South Florida’s name” and resources “for illegal and/or improper purposes.” The allegations include using USF computers, phones and fax machines to further the operations and management of the Islamic Jihad. The FBI says it has wiretaps of phone calls and faxes showing al-Arian and his codefendants congratulating each other after suicide bombings and discussing money transfers to survivors of the bombers. Al-Arian has denied any involvement with terrorist activities against civilians. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Miami Herald. Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.