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Arab professor fights for job as in-law deported

Palestinian immigrant Mazen Al-Najjar was deported to
Palestinian immigrant Mazen Al-Najjar was deported to "a U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern country," his attorney said.  

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A Palestinian immigrant who was imprisoned without charges for 3 1/2 years because the federal government alleged he aided terrorists was deported Thursday to the Middle East, according to his attorney.

But while Mazen Al-Najjar was flying toward an unnamed country, his brother-in-law remained behind to fight for his job as a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida.

Both Al-Najjar and his relative Sami Al-Arian have been accused but never charged with helping fund the Palestinian Islamic Jihad through two groups -- the Islamic Committee for Palestine, a Palestinian charity, and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, an Islamic think tank that the professor founded.

The men deny that they or the two organizations funded the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Mazen Al-Najjar, jailed without charges for 3 1/2 years , is deported to an unnamed Middle East nation. CNN's Mark Potter reports (August 22)

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"At 9 a.m., [Al-Najjar] was put on a plane and deported alone without his family to a U.S.-friendly Middle Eastern country," said attorney Martin Schwartz in Tampa. Schwartz said Al-Najjar's destination would be announced once he settles in the new country.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. David Bonior, D-Michigan, who has opposed Al-Najjar's imprisonment, said the deportation disappointed the lawmaker.

"The congressman remains adamantly opposed to secret evidence," said Bob Allison. "It's unconstitutional. It's against everything that America stands for. Al-Najjar and his family have been railroaded."

Al-Najjar first was arrested in 1997, but no charges were filed. The government said it had secret evidence, showing it only in court and never revealing the source or the details to Al-Najjar or the public.

In 2000, an immigration judge said that he saw no evidence to support the allegations and freed Al-Najjar on the grounds that his right to due process was violated.

"The record before the court is devoid of any direct or indirect evidence to support the conclusion that the respondent was meaningfully associated ... with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad," the judge wrote.

Two months after the September 11 attacks, Al-Najjar was imprisoned again -- on a visa violation. He was held in solitary confinement for nine months and then put into deportation proceedings.

The university placed Al-Arian -- who is married to Al-Najjar's sister -- on paid leave following September 11 after he appeared on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." In December, the university's board of trustees voted to fire him because of what it called "activities ... outside the scope of his employment."

Al-Arian called the University of South Florida's attempt to fire him an issue of academic freedom that violates a collective bargaining agreement.

"I believe that the issue was and still is an issue of academic freedom, the right to espouse views even though they may be unpopular," he said at a news conference. "I am a pro-Palestinian person. I don't wish death to any people."

Al-Arian said his involvement with World and Islam Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Committee for Palestine was only "to support the just cause of the Palestinian people."

Roy Weatherford, president of the university's chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, joined the professor Thursday to oppose the school's move.

"This is the way we believe this kind of controversy should be settled," he said.

The University of South Florida argues that Al-Arian's outspoken views have drawn too much negative attention to the campus and disrupted the school's academic climate, violating the terms of his contract.

"I believe that Dr. Al-Arian has abused his position at the university and is using academic freedom as a shield to cover improper activity," said Judy Genshaft, the school's president.

Al-Arian was put on paid leave in 1996 after media reports alleged a connection between the World and Islam Studies Enterprise and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He returned to the school two years later.

The federal government says it is investigating Al-Arian. The professor, who read portions of the ruling in his brother-in-law's case at a news conference, said he had never aided terrorists.

"I don't support suicide bombings," he has said. "I don't support the targeting of civilians of any nationality, background or religion. I am deeply against it."




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