Since the discovery that two of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center had attended a Florida pilot training program, the sunny state seems to have taken a central position in the eyes of the country.
Sami Al-Arian is a Middle Eastern professor of computer science at University of South Florida. His Palestinian nationalist views have long been controversial in the small community of Tampa where he lives and works. But after he appeared on the Fox news show The O’Reilly Factor, where host Bill O’Reilly drew connections between him and terrorist groups, the university was barraged by hundreds of threatening letters and emails. Thirty-six hours after the interview, the university put Al-Arian on paid leave.
Al-Arian is outspoken in support of Palestinians rising up against the Israeli occupation. In the early 90s Al-Arian incorporated the World and Islam Studies Enterprise in Tampa, a research center to bring diverse voices to the Middle East debate. Several years ago Al Arian, who is Kuwaiti, was put on similar paid leave for two years while under investigation by the FBI, who suspected that the Islamic think tank he headed was operating as a front to provide funds for terrorist organizations and help terrorists secure visas. Though Al-Arian was investigated for two years, he was never detained or charged with a crime and has continued to work for the school for the past three years…until his appearance on Fox last week.
The O’Reilly interview focused on Al-Arian’s connections to two former colleagues from the think tank involved in terrorist activities, especially Ramadun Abdullah Shallah. Six months after Shallah left the think tank, he resurfaced as head of the Palestinian Islamic jihad in the Middle East, which is on the US State department’s list of terrorist organizations. We have a segment of that TV interview where O’Reilly grilled Al-Arian about his relationship to Shallah:
- Al-Arian interviewed by Bill O’Reilly on The O’Reilly Factor
On the heated Fox program, Al-Arian also defended a 1998 speech in which he said “Death to Israel,” saying he did not mean death to any individual but rather “death to occupation, death to apartheid, death to oppression.” The University of South Florida has been very careful to separate itself from Al-Arian’s views. The university maintains that Al-Arian has been suspended for his own safety, and say they have increased police patrols on campus and are considering other security measures.
- Sami Al-Arian, Professor suspended from University of South Florida
- John Sugg, senior Editor of Creative Loafing magazine, an alternative Atlanta paper, who has been following Al-Arian’s case for the last four years
- Norman Gross, president, Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting who has mounted an extensive campaign against Al-Arian