An Ohio professor with a long history of expressing anti-Israel views is being investigated by the FBI for possible ties to the terrorist group ISIS.
The FBI confirmed to The New York Times and other outlets that it was investigating Julio Pino, an associate professor of history at Kent State University in Ohio who’s known for defending his right to free speech as he speaks out against Israel.
KentWired.com, a student-run publication, broke the story this week that a joint terrorism task force has been investigating Pino, who is a Muslim convert, for a year and a half.
FBI agents have been questioning students on campus, some of whom he’s suspected of trying to recruit to join ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh), according to the website. Pino has tenure and was still teaching on campus after news of the FBI investigation broke.
An unnamed FBI agent who spoke to KentWired.com said there is “no direct threat to the university.”
Pino has denied the allegations. He said at a press conference on Thursday that he has “no ties to any politics of Islam, the Islamic State or any other political organisation here in the United States or abroad.”
“I have never discussed the politics of Islam, the Islamic State or any other political organisation with the students, with the faculty or with anyone else on campus,” Pino said. “I do not endorse violence. I do not advocate violence nor do I practice it and I always try to fulfil my duties, which are to my family, to this community, to this university and obviously to my students.”
This isn’t the first time federal authorities have looked into Pino, who didn’t respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about the newest allegations.
The Secret Service questioned him in 2009 about his beliefs, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. Pino has been known to make anti-Semitic comments. And in 2011 he shouted, “Death to Israel!” at a lecture hosted by a former Israeli diplomat, the Beacon Journal reported.
Pino has an open history about his apparent jihadist sympathies online. On his personal Facebook page, he has posted photos of ISIS militants and criticised the US government.
This AFP photo, which Pino used as his Facebook cover photo in 2014, shows ISIS militants in Aleppo, Syria:
Under another photo of ISIS jihadists, Pino wrote: “Keep it a secret: that’s me on the left!”
In a comment on a photo of himself in front of the US Capitol building, he made a reference to Ziad Jarrah, one of the hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on US soil. He wrote, “I told Ziad Jarah [sic] to head for the Capitol, but did he listen? No!”
Under the same photo on an earlier date, Pino wrote, “I come to bury DC, not to praise it.”:
In a photo from 2013, meanwhile, Pino was pictured in the United Arab Emirates. In a comment beneath the photo, he wrote about visiting a Salafist imam. ISIS members are considered Salafist-jihadists, implementing a strict version of Islamic law in the territory they control.
Pino wrote, “They had us listen to some Salafist imam preacher, had a Wahhabi line but still couldn’t reach me, all I kept thinking about was Palestine and al-Shams and all the other jihad lands when a Saudi brother turned to me and said ‘Get outta Mecca, Julio, Go, get outta Mecca and just go, cause you look just like jihadi and you just might be an AQ [Al Qaeda] member, baby, go!'”
He also posted a photo of children with weapons:
Students have expressed concern about Pino’s teaching style in the past.
KentWired.com interviewed several students who have taken Pino’s classes, and one student said there was something “off” with the professor. Another student, Harold Horsley, a sophomore who took one of Pino’s classes last semester, told the news outlet that Pino was “racially insensitive on multiple instances.”
Though some students said they didn’t remember him making any incendiary comments during class, others said he focused too much on violence.
“After the first week of classes, I called my parents and told them I thought he was an extremist,” Madi Nitschke, who took Pino’s world history class in 2014, told KentWired.com. “The majority of my class felt the same way, however, there were a few students that really enjoyed his lectures.”
She said that Pino “constantly talked about violence and killing.”
“He would make comments about how he wanted to see blood, emotion, hatred and other disturbing things during debate,” Nitschke said.
Pino has a documented history of making provocative statements.
In 2014, he wrote a letter to the editor about Israel and Palestine that was published in the Kent Stater. Pino declared himself a “slave of Allah” and said that he was being accused of “accused of stirring hatred [and] promoting terrorism” in the US.
That same year, he wrote a letter for an academic website blaming certain scholars for the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians. He ended the letter by saying, “Jihad until victory.”
In 2007, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington accused Pino of running a blog that supports jihadism, as KentWired reported. And in a 2002 column for the Kent Stater, Pino praised a Palestinian suicide bomber, The New York Times reported.
Pino has still been teaching classes amid the controversy:
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