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Official: Terrorism suspect attended White House meeting

Indicted professor accused of links to Palestinian Islamic Jihad


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Florida professor indicted last week on terrorism charges was granted entry to the White House complex and briefed by a senior administration official as part of a 160-person group in June 2001, according to a White House official.

Officials would not release the name of the senior administration official who briefed the group. A member of the president's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives also briefed them, according to the White House.

Sami Al-Arian, 45, was arrested Thursday and charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with his alleged support of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the State Department has labeled a terrorist organization. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

Al-Arian, who taught at the University of South Florida, has five children and denied any links to terrorism.

The White House said Al-Arian entered the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with the American Muslim Council as part of what the White House called an "outreach meeting."

"This demonstrates that the Justice Department is pursuing terrorism regardless of whether someone attended a White House meeting or not," White House spokesman Taylor Gross said.

This meeting was the only time Al-Arian was on the White House grounds during the Bush administration. However, the White House official said Secret Service records show Al-Arian also visited June 23, 2000, during the Clinton administration.

A Kuwait native, Al-Arian came under the scrutiny of federal authorities in 1995, when he and another USF instructor -- Ramadan Abdullah Shallah -- founded an Islamic think tank, World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). About a year later, Shallah returned to the Middle East as the new head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Thursday's indictment said Al-Arian was the leader of the group in the United States and acted as the secretary for the group's governing body. It also alleges that he transferred tens of thousands of dollars to the group and relatives of its jailed members.

His lawyer, Nicolas Matassini, called the indictment "a work of fiction."


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