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Kent State University and the FBI have confirmed an investigation into a professor known for his controversial views on Israel -- an investigation that KSU student media reported Tuesday is delving into allegations he has ties to the Islamic State terrorist group.
Special Agent Donna Cambeiro, a spokeswoman for the agency's Cleveland office, confirmed agents are investigating KSU associate professor Julio C. Pino, who teaches in the university's history department.
"We are conducting an ongoing investigation," she said, declining further comment due to the open nature of the probe.
KSU spokesman Eric Mansfield said Tuesday the FBI "has assured Kent State there is no threat to campus."
"Kent State is fully cooperating with the FBI," he said. "As this is an ongoing investigation, we will have no further comment."
Pino, 55, has been the target of other investigations in the past, both by the university when he allegedly posted on a jihadist blog in 2007 and more recently in 2009 when his Kent home reportedly was visited by U.S. Secret Service agents.
Pino, a tenured professor of Latin American history and native of Cuba who converted to Islam in 2000, could not immediately be reached for comment. In a video posted Tuesday on Kentwired.com, the KSU student media website, he said he wasn't aware of the federal investigation and has not broken the law.
"I don't advocate that anyone else break the law, so I'll stand by that statement that I fulfill my duties as an American citizen by speaking out on issues that some people find controversial, of course, but no, I have not violated any laws that I'm aware of or that anyone has informed me of," he said in the video.
Daily Kent Stater newspaper editor Emily Mills said she was one of 20 students interviewed by FBI agents on Tuesday. The agents are members of a joint terrorism task force that has been investigating Pino for the last 18 months, Mills wrote on Kentwired.com, citing an unnamed FBI source. She reported that the investigation was looking into whether Pino was trying to recruit students to join the Islamic State, the terrorist group also known by the names ISIS, ISIL or Daesh.
Mills said she first wrote about Pino in 2014, and that he has written several letters printed in the student newspaper.
Pino is "really, really open about his views and what he believes," she said.
The university has condemned Pino's statements each time they have drawn controversy.
In 2014, Pino posted a letter online condemning pro-Israel academics as responsible for the murder of innocent Palestinians. KSU issued a statement calling the letter "reprehensible and irresponsible."
In October 2011, Pino shouted "Death to Israel!" during a speech by a former Israeli diplomat and fellow Muslim at KSU. Then-university President Lester Lefton condemned Pino's treatment of guest speaker Ishmael Khaldi as "reprehensible," "an embarrassment to our university," "deplorable" and "deeply troubling."
Pino later told the website Inside Higher Ed he made the comment "for the sake of the children of Palestine, and no other reason."
In 2007, Pino was investigated for allegedly posting on a blog linked to Islamic extremism. The university found that no university property was used to make the posts, while noting the opinions on the blog "do not reflect those of the university."
The blog no longer exists, and both Pino and the university received threats following the investigation.
"I don't speak for the university … And the university doesn't speak for me or endorse my beliefs" Pino told the Daily Kent Stater following the controversy.
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Kent State professor says pro-Israel profs help murder Palestinians (Aug. 5, 2014): bit.ly/1PE1Qx2