A Florida college professor who pleaded guilty to aiding Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami Al-Arian, is making a fresh attempt to persuade a federal appeals court to order an end to his imprisonment for failing to testify before a grand jury.

Al-Arian’s latest bid for freedom came in a legal filing last week, in which he asked the full, 12-judge bench of the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a three-judge panel’s decision last month upholding his jailing for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury investigating Northern Virginia Islamic charities.

This week, the Supreme Court is scheduled to take up a separate legal petition in which the Kuwaitiborn professor is challenging the basis for the 57-month prison sentence he received after entering a guilty plea last year on charges of providing assistance to a designated terrorist group. With credit for time served since his arrest in 2002, Al-Arian could have been released and deported as soon as Friday. However, a judge put Al-Arian’s criminal sentence on hold while he serves up to 18 months for civil contempt.

In seeking so-called en banc review by the 4th Circuit, an attorney for Al-Arian, C. Peter Erlinder, argued that the former professor is entitled to hold the government to an oral promise federal prosecutors in Florida allegedly made not to seek his assistance in other cases, including the Virginia investigation.

“Insofar as there exists any ambiguity or imprecision with respect to the terms of the government’s admitted oral modification of the plea agreement, that language must be construed against the government and in favor of Dr. John Doe,” Mr. Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., wrote. Al-Arian, who taught computer science at the University of South Florida, is referred to by a pseudonym in the 4th Circuit’s public records, though his identity is evident from the filings.


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