Menu

Palestinian Professor Put on Paid Leave After O'Reilly Appearance

A Palestinian-born University of South Florida professor with links to known terrorists was put on paid leave Friday after receiving a death threat.

"Clearly the presence of Dr. Al-Arian on this campus at this time affects the operations of the university," said University President Judy Genshaft, whose decision was backed by the board of trustees.

The university called an emergency meeting after Sami Al-Arian appeared on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor Wednesday and was questioned about his links to two suspected terrorists. Al-Arian said he knew the men only as academics and was "shocked" when they were later connected to terrorism.

• Read a transcript of the interview here.

Genshaft said Al-Arian was put on leave to keep him off campus pending a review of campus safety and an investigation of a telephone death threat that came in after the broadcast and forced the closing of the computer science office on campus.

The computer engineering professor founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a now-defunct think tank that was at the university until the FBI raided it in 1995 and froze its assets.

Al-Arian has never been detained or charged with a crime, but the think tank and a related Palestinian charity were accused by the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service of being a fund-raising front for terrorists. Al-Arian had been placed on a two-year leave during the 1995 probe.

The think tank's conferences drew known terrorists, including Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric convicted of plotting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

A former head of the think tank, Ramadan Abdulah Shallah, left it in 1995 and resurfaced as the head of a terrorist organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Bill O'Reilly asked Al-Arian about his connections to Shallah and to Tarik Hamdi, a former manager of the charity. Hamdi was linked to Usama bin Laden's organization during the trial of four men convicted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Al-Arian said Friday he did not believe he was a safety risk. He said other measures could have been taken to protect him or others.

His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was jailed for more than three years as a national security threat because of his connections to the terrorists linked to the think tank. Al-Najjar was held by INS until last year, when a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence. He still faces deportation.