After 814 days in prison, many in solitary confinement, former professor Sami Al-Arian goes on trial this week, charged with commanding a terrorist cell that flourished in Tampa and infiltrated the University of South Florida, the Miami Herald reports. Al-Arian and eight codefendants are accused of raising money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group blamed for more than 100 deaths in Israel. Federal prosecutors charge that Al-Arian, 47, cleverly exploited his university position to create an Islamic think tank and a Palestinian charity that served as fronts for funneling money to terrorists in Israel and the territories it controls.
Al-Arian’s attorneys say he is being punished for his pro-Palestinian views and is a victim of anti-Muslim bias and post-Sept. 11 hysteria. They say his activities were designed to raise money for Palestinian charities. Jury selection is scheduled to begin today in Tampa’s federal courthouse, but defense attorneys argue that the trial should be moved because the jury pool was hopelessly tainted by hyperaggressive media coverage and by political opportunists during last year’s U.S. Senate campaign in Florida.