A Florida judge told a Palestinian computer engineer on Monday that he must spend another 18 months in prison before being deported, in a case that had been seen as a key test for sweeping anti-terror legislation brought in after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Sami al-Arian, a former professor at the University of South Florida, has been jailed since February 2003, meaning he has 18 months to serve in the four year and nine month term he received yesterday. In sentencing, Judge James Moody called him an "active leader" in Islamic Jihad.
The verdict was a result of a plea bargain. Arian was acquitted by a jury along with three others in December last year on several more serious terrorist charges, including conspiracy to murder.
In the past, Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian who has lived in the US for nearly 30 years, has said he was singled out for prosecution because of his support for Palestinian rights. He denies advocating violence. His family said that the professor agreed last month to plead guilty to lesser charges of providing support to the Islamic Jihad in order to get out of prison.
Arian became the target of an FBI investigation as one of the founders of a campus think tank and a charity formed in the 1980s to support a Palestinian state. Although the defense contends that Arian's involvement was restricted to charitable activities, the judge said yesterday: "Your only connection to widows and orphans was that you create them."
The proceedings in Tampa bring to a close one of the most high-profile terror cases brought in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2003, his prosecution was hailed by the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, as a prime example of the importance of sweeping powers of surveillance and intrusion enshrined in the patriot act.
The prosecution claimed the verdict as a victory yesterday, saying the authorities had managed to break up a resident terror cell.
"There's no doubt in my mind he was a member of the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad]," said US attorney Paul Perez.
After the sentencing, Arian's lawyer, Linda Moreno, said the government had failed to directly link Arian and his co-defendants to any acts of violence.
"[Federal prosecutors] essentially pulled the trigger and shot every bullet -- and they missed Dr al-Arian," she said.
"The judge made a political statement," said Arian's wife, Nahla.