Friday, August 20, 2004

A self-proclaimed Hamas leader and two suspected members, including a Virginia resident, have been charged with supporting the terrorist organization through a 15-year conspiracy that sought to raise cash for terrorist attacks in Israel, an indictment by a federal grand jury in Chicago said.

Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, of Alexandria, and Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah, 51, of Bridgeview, Ill., were arrested Thursday night. A fugitive warrant was issued for Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, 53, a former Hamas chief and now deputy chief of the organization’s political bureau, who is believed to be in Syria.

“The individuals named in this indictment are alleged to have played a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday. “The United States makes no distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance, manage or supervise terrorist organizations.”

The indictment, handed up Thursday in U.S. District Court in Chicago and unsealed yesterday, said the men had conspired with as many as 20 others since 1988 to finance the activities of Hamas, including terrorist attacks against civilian targets in Israel.

It said they used bank accounts in the United States to launder millions of dollars to support conspiracies to commit murder, kidnapping, passport fraud and other crimes. Hamas, designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization, has been blamed for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel.

Hamas also was named last month in a Dallas federal grand jury indictment, which targeted the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, once the largest Muslim charity in the United States, and seven of its top officers. They were accused of providing financial aid to Hamas and raising illicit cash for other extremist groups who espoused an “Islamic fundamentalist agenda.”

The Dallas indictment said the Holy Land Foundation was created to provide financial and material support to Hamas, and that from 1995 to 2001 the foundation raised $12.4 million for people and organizations tied to Hamas. The foundation was shut down in December 2001 after the Treasury Department deemed it a terrorist group and seized more than $4 million in assets.

The Chicago indictment said Mr. Ashqar, who entered the United States on a student visa, functioned as a conduit of money for Hamas and as an administrator for the terrorist network. It said he participated in Hamas meetings in this country and in a number of telephone conversations about Hamas plans.

Federal authorities said Mr. Ashqar entered the United States in the 1980s from the West Bank as a graduate student at the University of Mississippi and later worked as a business professor at Howard University in the District. He was charged earlier this year with criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a Chicago grand jury investigating Hamas.

The new indictment said Mr. Salah, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem, traveled to the West Bank, where he met with Hamas leaders, telling them he had 53 recruits prepared to carry out terrorist attacks, but that funding was needed to assist them. The indictment said Mr. Salah agreed to pass on the request for money to Marzook and others.

It also said Mr. Salah provided money for the purchase of weapons by writing 10 checks, each for $5,000, from one of his Chicago bank accounts, which he cashed in Israel. In the next three months, according to the indictment, Hamas members publicly took credit for eight terrorist attacks that killed numerous Israeli civilians and military personnel.

Marzook, who once lived in Falls Church, was detained by U.S. authorities in 1995 on suspicion of terrorist activities and expelled to Jordan, where he was deported to Syria for his ties to Hamas. At one time, he was a key investor in a New Jersey-based business known as BMI Inc., which solicited real-estate investments and offered leasing services for Muslims in what authorities said was a scheme based in Virginia and Maryland to raise cash for terrorists.

He was named a “special designated global terrorist” by President Bush in August.

In a sentencing declaration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Senior Agent David Kane said Marzook was accused by Israel of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and conspiracy in bombings that killed 14 persons.

BMI was founded by Soliman S. Biheiri, an Egyptian who also lived in Falls Church and who has since been convicted of immigration violations. A sentencing declaration by Mr. Kane said Biheiri’s activities in this country were aimed at supporting Hamas and were tied to a criminal conspiracy to provide “material support to terrorist organizations.”

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