College seminars on terrorism do not usually feature an actual terrorist, yet Sami al-Arian spoke at just such a panel at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis last December. The moderator introduced al-Arian as a scholar, apparently
failing to mention that al-Arian is also a noted practitioner of terrorism.
arrested in 2003 and sentenced in 2006 to 57 months in prison, for conspiring to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Iranian-backed and US-designated terrorist organization formed as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. PIJ attacks have killed more than 100 people, including at least two American students. The group continues to plot attacks against Israeli civilians, and its decades-long campaign of firing rockets at Israeli population centers reached new heights in August 2022.
In his guilty plea, al-Arian, who worked as a computer science professor at the University of South Florida (USF),
confessed that he and several other co-conspirators were associated with the PIJ from the late 1980s to mid-1990s. PIJ members and associates used the university as cover to enter the United States.
At USF, al-Arian co-founded a think tank and charity, both of which served as fronts for the PIJ in America. His brother-in-law, a
top PIJ official, studied at USF and served as the think tank's executive director. Another organization al-Arian founded, PIJ's " active arm," according to a Cleveland imam later deported for ties to the terrorist group, hos ted a PIJ founder at three of its conferences.
Al-Arian also served as the visa sponsor for USF professor Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who
joined al-Arian's think tank and was one of three authorized signatories on its bank account. Shallah left the university in 1995 to take up his next post: PIJ secretary general. Soon thereafter, the US government named Shallah a "Specially Designated Terrorist" and listed the PIJ as a foreign terrorist organization.
Ignoring all this evidence, and despite his guilty plea, al-Arian has tried to
present himself as an innocent victim of counter-terrorism overreach.
After more than a decade of litigation surrounding a related contempt of court
indictment, the United States deported al-Arian to Turkey in 2015. But this did not stop him from rejoining American academic circles.
In Turkey, al-Arian established the
Center for Islamic and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University in 2017. From his perch at CIGA, al-Arian hosted a conference on Palestinian issues in June 2021 that featured at least seven American university professors. They included the director of the University of Denver's Center for Middle East Studies (CMES), who previously served as an advisory editor for a journal published by a think tank founded and funded by a leading Hamas figure. CMES even co-sponsored the conference, which also featured other panelists linked to Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hezbollah, all US-designated terrorist groups.
Al-Arian also found a receptive environment at Georgetown University. Along with CIGA, the US-based Coalition for Civil Freedoms (CCF), which al-Arian also founded,
sponsored a 2021 report published by Georgetown's Bridge Initiative. The report, which criticizes the global war on terrorism, specifically thanks al-Arian for his contributions, including two chapters he wrote. Al-Arian's son, Abdullah, who is a professor at Georgetown's Qatar campus, wrote a separate chapter.
Meanwhile, Sami al-Arian's son-in-law and CCF board member,
Jonathan Brown, teaches in the department that oversees the Bridge Initiative. Brown's boss, Professor John Esposito, serves as a distinguished Georgetown University professor and director of the school's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. In 2008, Esposito wrote a letter while al-Arian was awaiting trial for criminal contempt, touting their decades-long relationship and urging the judge to release him on bond.
Al-Arian continues to blur the lines between charity work and glorifying terrorists through CCF. Al-Arian founded CCF in 2010 to litigate against US counter-terrorism laws and to help overturn terrorist convictions. Leena al-Arian, Sami's daughter, is CCF's
executive director. Two of al-Arian's co-conspirators in his terror trial are now senior members of CCF, including one individual who pleaded guilty to sending $60,000 to the PIJ.
In line with the CCF's opposition to counter-terrorism measures, the group recently
hosted a webinar with Sami Samir Hassoun's mother and brother, where they portrayed Hassoun as a victim of government overreach. Hassoun pleaded guilty and received a 23-year sentence for planting what he thought was a bomb near Wrigley Stadium in 2012.
Following al-Arian's 2006 conviction, the sentencing judge
described al-Arian as a "master manipulator." Nearly 17 years later, al-Arian continues to pose as a professor while recruiting sympathetic colleagues to help him whitewash terrorism.
David May ( @DavidSamuelMay ) is a research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Melissa Sacks is a senior research analyst. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD . FDD is a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.