USF professors vow to stand by colleague

Feb. 21, 2003 at 6:21 PM

TAMPA, Fla., Feb. 21 (UPI) -- The faculty union at the University of South Florida said Friday it will continue to defend Sami Al-Arian in his battle to save his job as computer science professor.

Al-Arian was arrested Thursday on charges he is the chief fundraiser of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization.

Roy Weatherford, chapter president of the American Association of University Professors, said the issue of Al-Arian's suspension by the university has been challenged by a grievance and the issue is up to the school.

Al-Arian has been under suspension since last year because of his alleged ties to terrorism.

"The faculty union regularly defends the contractual and constitutional rights of everybody in the bargaining unit," Weatherford told The Oracle, the campus newspaper.

Weatherford said he was well aware that could cause some resentment.

But he said if the government proves its case, Al-Arian deserves to be punished.

Much of the opinion on campus was to wait for the courts to decide the case.

"The laws would allow this country to keep going so it's important to keep the process going and find out exactly what happened," said Jean Paul Aliaga, an electrical engineering senior

Al-Arian and seven others were indicted Thursday on kidnapping, extortion and terrorism charges and he was one of four who were arrested.

Al-Arian, 45, charged that his arrest was purely political and he would be exonerated. He said he would begin a hunger strike immediately, although that could not be confirmed.

Al-Arian is scheduled for a detention hearing before U.S. Magistrate Mark Pizzo Tuesday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter E. Furr III asked that Al-Arian and the two other Tampa Bay area defendants -- Sameeh Hammoudeh and Hatim Naji Fariz -- be held without bond.

Al-Arian's attorney Nicholas Matassini said he would have to read the indictment before he commented.

"I've received a copy of this work of fiction called an indictment and have not had time to get anywhere near through it," he said.

Furr said the trial could last as long as a year.

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