A senior political leader of the Hamas militant group and two others were indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges, accused of laundering money used to pay for attacks against Israel over 15 years, Attorney General John Ashcroft said. Authorities accused the three of using bank accounts in Ohio, Mississippi, Virginia, Wisconsin and elsewhere to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas, which the U.S. government designated as a terrorist organization in 1995. Ashcroft said the three operated a “U.S.-based terrorist-recruiting and financing cell.”
The indictment said the laundered money was used to pay for murders, kidnappings, assaults and passport fraud.
The federal indictment in Chicago, unsealed after two of the defendants were arrested overnight Thursday in Illinois and Virginia, was unusual because it treats Hamas as a traditional criminal enterprise as much as a terrorist organization. Authorities noted that at least three Americans in Israel were killed in bombings and shootings blamed on Hamas since 1994.
The defendants include Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, formerly chief and now deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau. Abu Marzook was expelled from the United States to Jordan in 1997 and now lives in Syria. He is considered a fugitive, Ashcroft said at a news conference Friday. The United States and Syria do not have an extradition treaty.
Abu Marzook denied the accusations Friday, saying they were motivated by the U.S. presidential campaign.
“This is election campaigning,” he told The Associated Press in Damascus. “They (U.S. officials) want to say to the American public that they are succeeding in fighting terrorism.”
“Every week they come up with a new case before the American public, but these are drawn from files that are tens of years old,” Abu Marzook said in a telephone interview.
The two others named in the indictment — Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah, 51, of Chicago, and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, of Alexandria, Virginia — were arrested Thursday night. Salah also was charged with providing material support for terrorism and obstruction of justice. Salah was accused of recruiting and training new members of Hamas in the United States. After his release from prison in Israel in 1997, authorities said he directed an associate in Chicago, who wasn’t identified in the indictment, to scout potential targets for terrorist attacks in Israel in October 1999.
Ashqar, who previously had been offered immunity from prosecution, already was under house arrest on related charges of contempt and obstruction of justice.