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Ex-professor remains in jail for refusing to testify about Palestinian charities

A former Florida university computer science professor detained for refusing to testify about Palestinian charities will remain jailed on federal contempt charges until at least October.

"The decision by the judge yesterday is very disappointing. This is prolonging our suffering," said Sami al-Arian's wife, Nahla. She said the decision does not change her plan to move to Egypt with her youngest children next month.

Prosecutors in 2003 labeled former University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian, 49, a leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the U.S. calls a terrorist organization, but his six-month trial in 2005 ended in an acquittal on some counts and a hung jury on others. Prosecutors did not release him and planned to retry him

In an April 2006 plea bargain, al-Arian admitted conspiring to aid Palestinian Islamic Jihad and was sentenced to nearly five years in prison, minus credit for the time he had served.

He was due to be released and deported in April 2007 and had hoped to be reunited with his family. But his sentence was put on hold when he was found guilty of contempt of court in November 2006, for refusing to testify in an investigation of Islamic charities in Virginia.

Al-Arian contends the plea deal exempts him from testifying. After al-Arian refused to answer grand jury questions, a federal judge ordered him held in contempt for up to 18 months.

Nahla al-Arian said her husband's attorney told the family a judge ordered the continued confinement in a closed hearing Wednesday. Attorney Jonathan Turley said Thursday that federal rules prevent him from commenting on the case.

"We remain committed to obtaining the release of Dr. al-Arian ... and believe that the current contempt proceedings are to exact punishment" in a case where the government failed to convince a jury of his guilt, Turley said.

Nahla al-Arian said her husband will not bow to pressure to testify, and showed his resolve with a two-month hunger strike earlier this year.

"My children and I are very supportive of my husband's decision," she said. "We never want to see my husband be turned into an informant or be trapped in a perjury trap by the government. And that is what they are trying to do."

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, where the hearing was held, did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

Nahla al-Arian said she plans to move to Egypt next month with her youngest children, ages 13 and 16. Her three adult children will remain in the U.S. She said her husband will be deported to Egypt when he is released from prison.

"We want to go to Egypt and take a break from this and focus on their education and their mental health," she said of the teens. "This has been very hard for them.

"We will always have ties with America, but Egypt will be for us the place where my husband is," she said. "We have a lot of beautiful memories here despite what has happened."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons lists al-Arian's projected release date as "unknown."

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