Sami Al-Arian to go on trial on contempt charges

01/16/09 Mitch E. Perry
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A federal judge in Virginia ruled today that Sami Al-Arian should stand trial in March for criminal contempt.

The ruling was a blow to the former USF professor, who was released on bail by Judge Leonie Brinkema back in September after being incarcerated in numerous prisons and jails since his arrest in February 2003 on federal terrorism charges.

Mel Underbakke is with the group Friends of Human Rights. She says she was one of nearly two dozen supporters of Al-Arian from Tampa in the courtroom today, who were hoping that the Judge would have dismissed the latest charges.

The Judge said today that Al-Arian’s current case is not about terrorism. In fact it’s about Al-Arian’s refusal to testify in a completely separate case involving a think tank in Northern Virginia.

Al-Arian’s attorneys today argued he was being singled out unfairly and that federal prosecutors improperly drafted the paperwork compelling Al-Arian's testimony in the first place.

Al-Arian was originally arrested and charged with aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization classified by the federal government as a terrorist group back in 1996. But that jury aquitted him on eight charges, and the jury deadlocked in favor of him on the remaining nine charges.

Al-Arian then later plead guilty on a single count to helping the PIJ with nonviolent activities. But as he was preparing to to finish his sentence, he was then held on civil contempt charges for refusing to testify in the Northern Virginia case, and was charged with criminal contempt.

Al-Arian has been living with at his daughter’s home since being released on bail last September, but Laila Al-Arian says the situation has been anything but normal.

Sami Al-Arian’s trial on contempt charges will begin March 9.

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