A Florida college professor identified as a fund raiser and organizer for a Palestinian terrorist group blamed for killing two Americans -and many others- was arrested on 20 February 2003 and charged along with seven other people with racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder.

Federal authorities arrested Kuwaiti-born University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, 45, described as the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and three others. An instructor at the University of South Florida, Sameeh Hamoudeh, 42, born in the West Bank was also among the arrested.

“We make no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance, manage and supervise terrorist organizations,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

Federal authorities have been investigating Al-Arian, a tenured computer engineering professor, for his fund-raising activities since 1995. He was banned from the campus following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.

Al-Arian’s lawyer, Nicolas Matassini, called the indictment “a work of fiction” and said his client -who has long acknowledged his fund-raising activities for humanitarian Palestinian causes- planned to go on a hunger strike to protest the charges.

His supporters from the Arab-American Institute Foundation claimed Al-Arian was being singled out because he is Muslim and Arabic.