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US Indicts 8 Accused of  Aiding Islamic Jihad Terrorists - 2003-02-20

U.S. officials have charged eight people, including a professor at a Florida university, with supporting the militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The State Department has designated the Palestinian group a terrorist organization.

Attorney General John Ashcroft says eight people, including four men arrested in the United States, have been charged in a 50-count indictment with aiding Islamic Jihad terrorists.

Among the four people arrested was Sami al-Arian, a professor at the University of South Florida. Two other men were arrested in Florida and one in Chicago. Four other suspects are being sought overseas.

Attorney General Ashcroft says the suspects allegedly provided support for Islamic Jihad terrorists who have carried out several attacks that have killed more than 100 people during the past few years in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"Charges in the indictment include the following. Operating a racketeering enterprise that engaged in a number of violent activities; including murder, extortion, money laundering, and providing material support to terrorism. Conspiring within the United States to maim and kill persons abroad," said Mr. Ashcroft.

Federal officials say Professor al-Arian was the group's U.S. leader. He was suspended from teaching at the University of South Florida shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when a U.S. cable news station broadcast a 10-year-old videotape in which he is heard to shout "Death to Israel and America" in Arabic.

Professor al-Arian has said he has never advocated violence. He told reporters his arrest is "all about politics."

A leading Muslim-American organization in Washington, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, issued a statement expressing deep concern over his arrest.

Attorney General Ashcroft said the latest round of indictments are part of the continuing crackdown within the United States on those who funnel money to terrorist groups.

"We make no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance, manage or supervise terrorist organizations," stressed Mr. Ashcroft. We will bring justice to the full network of terror."

The U.S. attorney general pointed out that all of those charged could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.