Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Al-Arian granted bail, but not yet his freedom

Nahla Al-Arian and Leena Al-Arian, Sami Al-Arian’s wife and daughter, who live in Cairo, react with joy to a federal judge granting bond.


Nahla Al-Arian and Leena Al-Arian, Sami Al-Arian’s wife and daughter, who live in Cairo, react with joy to a federal judge granting bond.

CAIRO — The family of Sami Al-Arian reacted with joy Thursday to news from Virginia that a federal judge had granted the former University of South Florida professor bail as he awaits trial on contempt charges.

"We're almost afraid to have hope," said Leena, Al-Arian's 23-year-old daughter, "because every time we do, we get knocked down. But, maybe, this time will be different."

But their joy was tempered by subsequent news that immigration officials would keep Al-Arian in custody for the time being. Al-Arian has been held in prison since February 2003, when he was charged with multiple terrorism-related counts.

In late 2005, a Tampa jury acquitted him on eight of the charges and deadlocked on nine others. In May 2006, Al-Arian accepted a plea agreement for helping associates of a terrorist organization with nonviolent activities. He finished serving his 57-month sentence in April.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Al-Arian would have been deported "expeditiously" as soon as the sentence was done, but a federal prosecutor in Virginia wanted him to testify before a grand jury investigating an Islamic think tank in Herndon, Va. Al-Arian refused, saying it violated the terms of his plea agreement.

Al-Arian's trial on the criminal contempt charges is scheduled for mid August. If found guilty, he could remain in prison for years.

Al-Arian's attorney, Jonathan Turley, said, "The government has painted itself into a corner with Dr. Al-Arian. … Either it must release him on bond or deport him very soon."

What "soon" means is not clear.

Arturo Rios Jr., a St. Petersburg lawyer specializing in immigration issues, said it's not uncommon for a judge to grant bail and then for immigration officials to take custody of an individual.

Once Al-Arian is in the custody of ICE, authorities will have 48 hours to give him a notice to appear, which Rios described as a summons to begin the deportation process. He said deportation could happen within 60 days from that point or take up to a year, depending on the case.

In a separate order from Al-Arian's conditions of release, which include him posting $340,000 he has in his retirement pension, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said that ICE has filed an immigration detainer with the U.S. Marshal Service. Brinkema ordered that once Al-Arian posts bail, he must be released into the custody of ICE. Officials are to make Al-Arian available for all hearings in his criminal case.

After court Thursday, Turley called the contempt case is "a ruse." Al-Arian has spoken with prosecutors about the think tank and has even agreed to take a polygraph test. What the prosecutors really want, said Turley, is Al-Arian to answer questions about the Florida case, "which is a clear violation of the plea agreement."

Prosecutors in Virginia could not be reached for comment.

Linda Moreno, who represented Al-Arian at his 2005 trial, cheered the judge's ruling. "I'm so happy that Judge Brinkema restores the confidence that Americans are due in our system of justice," she said.

Becky Steele, regional director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the judge appears to be holding the executive branch accountable.

"The heartening thing for me here is that the system seems to be working and that the judge is making an independent assessment of what seems to be persecution by the government," Steele said.

But lawyer Eddie Suarez said he doesn't think the ruling does much.

"At the end of the day, I'm not sure we've accomplished a whole lot," Suarez said. "He'll still be held on these immigration issues."

If Al-Arian is released on bond, his wife, Nahla, 47, said she and two of her children will return from Cairo to the United States to reunite with her husband and their three other children.

On the other hand, the family will wait to reunite in Cairo if Al-Arian is deported soon.

"Either way, it looks as if we will finally be a family again," Nahla said.

Meg Laughlin can be reached at [email protected]

Al-Arian granted bail, but not yet his freedom 07/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 12, 2008 8:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater eyes hiring new downtown director within two months

    CLEARWATER — Now that the city director tasked with revitalizing downtown has resigned after his arrest on a battery charge during Oktoberfest, City Manager Bill Horne said the goal is to not leave the position vacant long.

    Clearwater Assistant City Manager  Micah Maxwell will oversee downtown until the city hires a replacement for Seth Taylor.
  2. Tampa Bay's Top 100 Workplaces deadline extended to Nov. 17


    Think you work at one of the best places in Tampa Bay? You've got a little more time to make a pitch.

    Penny Hoarder and Gregory, Sharer & Stuart were among those at an event in Tampa last May honoring winners of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces awards. Nominations are now open for this year.  
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida


     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.
  4. Tampa-based Checkers testing delivery, aims for record expansion


    TAMPA — Tampa-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants continues to fly under the radar compared to dominant burger chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

    Checkers Franchisee Shaji Joseph, of Tampa, hoses down the front walkway of his store at 6401 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park. The business has a new look including signage and exterior tile. One drive through has been eliminated for an outdoor dining area, right. Joseph owns nine Checkers and is planning to open his tenth in Tampa.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times ]
  5. Advice for presidents from military families they've tried to console


    One family returned the letter because it was full of errors. Another was left cold when the letter they got screamed "robo-pen." Still another was puzzled to find 17 copies of their letter in the mailbox.

    Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Cowan, 37, was killed in a helicopter training accident in South Korea on Feb. 26, 2005. [Courtesy of Kari Cowan]