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US releases ex-professor Al-Arian after 5 years in custody

[JURIST] US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] has released [advocacy group press release] Arab activist Sami Al-Arian [JURIST news archive] after five years in federal custody. The former University of South Florida (USF) [official website] computer science professor will remain under electronic monitoring pending trial on contempt charges [JURIST report] for refusing to testify before grand juries that were investigating a group of Islamic charities. ICE released al-Arian on Tuesday, the deadline set last week by US District Judge Leonie Brinkema [official profile] for the government to respond to al-Arian's habeas petition by justifying his continued detention. Brinkema granted bail [JURIST report] to Al-Arian last month, finding that he was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, but ICE then took him into custody. The Muslim Public Affairs Council [advocacy website] issued a statement [text] welcoming al-Arian's release, characterizing his case as "an example of what many American Muslims perceived to be numerous post-9/11 political persecutions of individuals using tactics that amount to little more than guilt by association." AP has more. The Tampa Tribune has local coverage.

Al-Arian was arrested in February 2003 [JURIST report] and indicted [PDF text] on charges of supporting terrorism based on comments he made in the wake of 9/11 and his association with an Islamic think tank at USF in the 1990s. In 2005 he was acquitted [JURIST report] on eight of 17 terrorism charges. The next year he pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to one charge of conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad [CDI backgrounder] in violation of US law and agreed to be deported after serving a 57-month sentence. In granting bail to al-Arian, Brinkema expressed concern that the government was interfering with the plea agreement by preventing his deportation in order to hold the contempt trial. Last year an appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the contempt charges.

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