The Justice Department is taking the first steps toward what could be another criminal prosecution of a former Florida college professor and prominent Palestinian Arab activist, Sami Al-Arian. One of Al-Arian's attorneys, Jonathan Turley, said a hearing was held in federal court yesterday in Alexandria, Va., after prosecutors summoned Al-Arian before a grand jury there. Al-Arian has already spent more than a year in civil contempt after refusing to appear before two grand juries investigating Islamic charities in Northern Virginia. The latest move comes just weeks before Al-Arian's criminal sentence was to run out, triggering his deportation.
"We had been hoping that the government would consider a year of imprisonment sufficient," Mr. Turley said. "It's clear that the government is not satisfied and plans to seek additional imprisonment."
A trial of Al-Arian in 2005 on charges stemming from his alleged role as Palestinian Islamic Jihad's top leader in America resulted in an acquittal on eight counts and a hung jury on nine others. After he agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of aiding a terrorist group, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison.
Al-Arian has argued that his plea deal excused him from being forced to appear before the Virginia-based grand juries, but two federal appeals courts rejected that argument. His prison sentence was put on hold for more than a year while he was in contempt, but it began running again in December after one of the grand juries' terms expired. Assuming he defies the grand jury again, Al-Arian could face five months more in civil contempt or a prison term of virtually unlimited duration if he is convicted of criminal contempt. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, James Rybicki, declined to comment.