Sami Al-Arian’s legal battles with the U.S. government intensely divided the Tampa Bay area more than a decade ago, and his deportation hasn’t changed those strong feelings, apparently.
The former USF professor was deported to Turkey this past week as a condition of his 2006 plea agreement in Tampa in which he admitted to providing assistance to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. That one count of guilt, though, came after the government’s much-heralded prosecution of him the previous year resulted in a failed effort, with a jury ruling to acquit him on eight of 17 charges, while failing to come to a verdict on the remaining counts.
Late this past week Al-Arian gave interviews to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and True Talk, the public affairs show regarding Muslim issues that airs on WMNF 88.5 in Tampa. (Full disclosure: This reporter also hosts a weekly show on WMNF).
On the program Al-Arian told hosts Ahmed Bedier and Samar Jarrah, “I had the choice of fighting this or go on with my life and get to a situation where I can feel free, and I thought that choice is better for me.”
The interview came during the middle of WMNF’s winter fundraising week, and prompted some criticism, with one listener telling a phone answerer that because of that interview he would never listen to the station again, calling Al-Arian a “jihadist.” But according to WMNF News & Public Affairs Director Rob Lorei, the response was “pretty positive,” with the station easily surpassing its fundraising goals for that period.
Another Tampa Bay area resident who hasn’t changed his attitude about Al-Arian is Dick Beard, a longtime member of the USF Board of Trustees.
Beard was chairman of the USF Trustees back in 2002 when it voted to recommend firing Al-Arian. While the school said that one reason why they voted to terminate his contract was the death threats made against the university after his appearance on The O’Reilly Factor in late September 2001, Beard said “the real reason is he’s a terrorist.”
On Friday he told Florida Politics that while Al-Arian’s time in America has now come and gone, “It’s not over for Al-Arian in the world,” indicating that he thinks Al-Arian is still capable of aiding terrorists from his new location.
“I’m worried about it because he was very successful for those causes,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll be out doing the stuff he’s done in the past.” He went on to say, “We’ll see Sami Al-Arian again, maybe not in this country. The bad stuff that he does is not over with.”