The University of South Florida is moving to fire a tenured Palestinian-born professor at the center of a furor over his alleged terrorist links.
University president Judy Genshaft sent a termination letter Wednesday to Sami Al-Arian, a computer science professor who has been on paid leave since September because the university feared for his safety after he received numerous death threats.
Al-Arian, 43, a community activist who also runs an Islamic school and community center, would not comment on the school's decision. He has denied he supports terrorism.
The professor, who is paid more than $67,000 a year, has the right to have an independent arbitrator review his dismissal. He has 10 days to respond to the letter.
"Dr. Al-Arian is considering all the options available to him in order to insure that his rights are protected," his attorney, Robert Cannella, said in a statement.
Al-Arian, who has never been detained or charged with a crime, founded the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, a now-defunct think tank that was headquartered at the university until the FBI raided it in 1995 and froze its assets.
The FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service alleged that the think tank and a related Palestinian charity were a fund-raising front for terrorists. The charity held conferences that drew people later identified as terrorists, including Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric convicted of plotting to bomb five New York landmarks.
A former manager of the charity, Tarik Hamdi, was linked to Osama bin Laden's organization during the trial of four men convicted in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. A former head of the think tank, Ramadan Abdulah Shallah, left in 1995 and resurfaced as the head of a terrorist organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Arian said he only knew the men as academics, and that their later links to terrorism "shocked" him. His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was jailed for three years on secret evidence as a threat to national security. He was released a year ago for lack of evidence, but jailed again last month for overstaying his visa. Al-Najjar's attorneys asked in a court filing Wednesday that he be immediately released.
The professor was criticized after he was videotaped at conferences a decade ago rallying the crowd with shouts of "death to Israel." He later explained he was making a political statement regarding the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and what he considers Israeli oppression, not advocating deaths of people.
Genshaft said community outrage and safety concerns led her to decide to fire Al-Arian. She said campus police told her it probably would never be safe to allow him back on campus.
"This man has been on the campus for over 10 years and 15 percent of the time he had been paid for doing nothing," she said.
University officials also said they have a 6-inch stack of e-mails about Al-Arian, the majority criticizing the university for employing him and some threatening to withdraw financial support.Pilar Saad, a local Muslim activist who works with Al-Arian, said the university's decision was unfair and suggested it was caving in to criticism.