A Kent State University professor with a history of anti-Israel comments said Thursday that he has no relationship with ISIS, dismissing a law enforcement probe said to be centered on his alleged ties to the militant group.
Julio Pino is reportedly being investigated by the FBI, which has sent agents to the Ohio public university to interview Pino, as well as students, about whether he has ever tried recruiting them to join ISIS. The probe comes after ISIS propaganda photos and posts expressing sympathy for extremists surfaced on a Facebook account in Pino’s name.
“It’s absolutely positively false. I’ve never spoken to anyone about joining ISIS or any other violent terrorist organization,” Pino, a 55-year-old history professor, told TIME. “That’s not me. That’s not who I am, and that’s not what I believe.” He declined to comment on the Facebook posts, which have been removed. He confirmed being questioned about alleged ISIS links but would not say by which law enforcement agency.
“They’ve spoken to me in the past as far as questioning me, but that was to the extent of it,” Pino said. “I repeated to them that under no circumstances, inside or outside a classroom, have I ever engaged in any political advocacy or recruitment for [ISIS].”
Kent State said Wednesday it was “fully cooperating with the FBI,” after word of agents’ presence on campus, including their interviews with students, sparked concerns. The school’s president, Beverly Warren, said in a statement that federal authorities assured her “there is no indication of a threat to campus.” Pino said he was still teaching as of Thursday. The FBI said its activity at Kent State is “in regards to an ongoing investigation,” but declined to comment further.
Emily Mills, the editor of student newspaper The Kent Stater, said she was among the students questioned by the FBI about Pino.
“They said they were looking into Professor Pino for his alleged involvement with the Islamic State and allegedly recruiting students to join them,” Mills said, using another name for ISIS. “It was definitely surprising to hear. I have no idea if it’s true or not.”
“He’s very well spoken,” Mills added. “He expresses his viewpoints, which he has every right to do. The most surprising thing was the weight of it, the gravity of it.”
Pino, a Cuba native who moved to the U.S. in 1968, said he “can’t imagine” how he landed on the FBI’s radar, but this isn’t the first time he’s been under scrutiny by federal authorities. Pino, who is Muslim, was flagged by the U.S. Secret Service in 2009 as someone “who needed to be interviewed,” the Akron Beacon Journal reported at the time. He continued to make headlines in 2011 when he shouted “death to Israel” during a former Israeli diplomat’s lecture at Kent State, according to the school’s student newspaper.
But Pino said his words and actions do not merit federal attention.
“I’ve done nothing and said nothing that would cause such a broad investigation to occur,” Pino said. “I can understand their side of it if you’re dealing with security matters. Obviously you want to lead on the side of caution and even over-caution, if you will. In that regards, I don’t have a problem with it, with them investigating any U.S. citizen or anyone who has come up on their radar screen. I can’t imagine how I have done so.”
“Anyone on campus can tell you I always seek the peaceful path,” Pino added. “This is what I wish for America.”