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Dec. 8, 2005, 3:48PM
U.S. May Yet Deport Acquitted Ex-Professor

TAMPA, Fla. — Federal authorities hit with a stunning defeat in a terrorism case against a former Florida college professor are considering deporting him instead of retrying him.

A complex case that took a decade to assemble was rejected Tuesday when a jury acquitted Sami Al-Arian of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and deadlocked on the rest.

Al-Arian, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, was accused of being a key figure in a Palestinian terrorist group that has carried out suicide bombings against Israel.

Al-Arian, 47, remains in jail, where he has been since his 2003 indictment, while prosecutors decide whether to retry him on the deadlocked charges.

Officials said there is no timetable for a decision.

"That's something we're currently evaluating whether a retrial is appropriate," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Thursday in Washington. "These are very, very difficult cases, and obviously we're disappointed in what happened in Tampa. We believed this was a good case to bring."

If the government decides to abandon the remaining charges, it is doubtful Al-Arian will be permitted to return to his previous life in Tampa. He had been a computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida but was fired after his indictment.

U.S. immigration authorities are holding him on an immigration detainer and will probably try to deport him if he is released from jail. The agency can deport any foreigner it deems a terrorism risk. The burden of proof for deportation is lower than it is in the criminal courts.

Al-Arian's attorney William Moffitt said Thursday that if immigration officials detain him, "his conditions of confinement could end up being worse than they are in the jail."

"I just hope the government will decide there is some sort of resolution out there short of a prosecution," Moffitt said.

Al-Arian holds permanent residency status in the United States, where he has lived for three decades. He was raised mostly in Egypt. If he is deported, it is not clear where he would be sent.

A vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, Al-Arian and three co-defendants were charged with running a North American cell of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that has killed hundreds in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The jury refused to convict any of the four defendants. Some of the jurors said prosecutors simply failed to connect the defendants directly to any violent acts.

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