TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Accused terrorist Sayfullo Saipov’s Florida driver license places his home address just a few miles from the sprawling Tampa campus of the University of South Florida, but university leaders insist he has never been a student or faculty member there.
Local Islamic leaders tell 8 on Your Side they’re not familiar with him either.
“He wasn’t very visible,” said CAIR Executive Director Hassam Shibley. “I don’t recall seeing him.”
Saipov’s shadowy presence in Tampa is in stark contrast to two controversial figures that caused some critics to label USF “Jihad U” back in the 1990s and even after the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.
That’s because former USF Engineering Professor Sami al-Arian and his brother in law Mazen al-Najjar both taught at USF. Both men were involved in an off-campus think tank known as WISE starting in the 1990s.
They became lightning rods of controversy after a third founder of WISE, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, left Tampa and later surfaced as the head of the Palestine Islamic Jihad, a mideastern terrorism group.
Both Arian and Najjar professed repeatedly they were not terrorists, nor did they endorse terrorist acts, but the federal government held Najjar in detention for years based on secret evidence and later deported him.
The FBI arrested Arian in 2003 and called him the “financial head of the Islamic Jihad in America.” Years later, after federal prosecutors failed to obtain a terrorism conviction, the federal government deported Arian to Turkey in 2015.
Wednesday, USF declined to comment on Najjar or Arian, but said they university has no ties to Saipov.
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