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Florida University Tries to Fire Professor Suspected of Terrorist Ties - 2002-08-22

In Florida, a university professor accused of backing Islamic terrorist groups says he will continue to fight for his job. The University of South Florida is moving to fire the Palestinian professor, saying his continued employment at the institution is disruptive and dangerous.

Computer science professor Sami Al-Arian insists he has never supported terrorism or advocated violence against civilians. And, he has never been charged with a crime. But he admits to holding what he calls "unpopular views" when it comes to U.S. support for Israel, and says he is being persecuted as a result. Speaking with reporters Thursday in Tampa, Mr. Al-Arian said he will not give up his job without a fight. "We will continue to fight this," he said. "I believe that the issue was, and still is, an issue of academic freedom: the right to espouse views even though they may be unpopular."

Wednesday, the University of South Florida went to court seeking an judicial ruling that would determine if terminating Mr. Al-Arian's employment would not violate his constitutional rights. The professor has been on paid leave since late last year, when he appeared on a national television show and was grilled about alleged ties to terrorist groups and a videotape in which he was believed to have uttered "Death to Israel."

University officials accuse Mr. Al-Arian of abusing his position to engage in what it terms "improper activities." They say the uproar surrounding the professor has become a distraction, adding that the school and Mr. Al-Arian have received threats. Florida Governor Job Bush has said he backs the decision to fire the professor.

Mr. Al-Arian is the brother-in-law of Mazen Al-Najjar, a Palestinian professor who came to the United States 20 years ago and overstayed his visa. Mr. Al-Najjar was imprisoned for more than three years on "secret evidence" of terrorist ties in the late 1990s, and is now awaiting deportation.