The legal skirmishes continue between the government and Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to assist a terrorist group.
This afternoon, Al-Arian is being arraigned in Alexandria, Va., on criminal contempt charges for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. The two-count indictment was announced last week.
Al-Arian was initially arrested in January 2003 and accused of heading the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's operations in North America. However, after a six-month trial in 2006, a Tampa, Fla., jury acquitted him on eight of 17 charges and was hung on the rest. He then entered a plea agreement, and U.S. District Judge James Moody sentenced him to 57 months in prison, to be followed by deportation.
That deal became the focus of his next brush with the law. While he was serving his sentence, prosecutors twice brought him to Virginia to testify in a terrorism-finance investigation that involves Islamic nonprofits. Al-Arian refused to answer questions. His lawyers law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University and Bryan Cave associates Will Olson and P.J. Meitl argue that nothing in Al-Arian's plea agreement requires his cooperation with the government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg of Alexandria the lead prosecutor in the terrorism-finance investigation believes otherwise.
Al-Arian appealed to the U.S. Courts of Appeals in the 4th and 11th Circuits, but both appellate courts have sided with the government. The Supreme Court refused to hear his case.
Al-Arian's latest troubles could cost him additional time in prison. If convicted, he faces an unknown sentence because criminal contempt carries no minimum or maximum prison terms.