- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Maryland police arrested a Virginia man named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme by Hamas to raise cash to finance terrorist attacks in Israel after he was spotted driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge as his wife took close-up video footage of the 4.3-mile-long structure, authorities said yesterday.

Neither Ismail Selim Elbarasse nor his wife was charged after the Friday arrest, but Mr. Elbarasse is being held on a material-witness warrant in the Hamas case, said Marcia Murphy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland.

Mr. Elbarasse, of Annandale, was named in a grand-jury indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago as a “high-ranking” Hamas operative. The indictment said he shared a Virginia bank account with Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, deputy chief of Hamas’ political bureau. The account was used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for the terrorist organization, the indictment said.

Mr. Elbarasse is scheduled for a detention hearing Friday in Baltimore, after which he likely will be transferred to Chicago for questioning.

Authorities said Mr. Elbarasse was arrested after two off-duty Baltimore County police officers spotted a couple in a sport utility vehicle videotaping the bridge. They said Mr. Elbarasse, his wife and their three children — ages 21, 19 and 14 — attempted to “hide the camera” when they spotted the officers, who were in a marked police vehicle.

Authorities said the officers reported what they had seen to Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who stopped Mr. Elbarasse west of the bridge. The camera, which was confiscated, contained close-up images of the bridge, authorities said.

Police later discovered from Maryland’s counterterrorism watch center that Mr. Elbarasse was wanted as a material witness in the Chicago case. He is being held at a maximum-security detention center in Baltimore.

A woman who answered the phone at an Annandale number listed under the name IsmailElbarasse declined to comment.

Yesterday, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said additional police have been stationed around the Bay Bridge since September 11, but cautioned that the Elbarasse arrest “shouldn’t be a generator of fear,” only a “reminder that there is a war going on around the world.”

The Chicago indictment accused Abu Marzook, Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah of Bridgeville, Ill., and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar of Alexandria of conspiring to finance terrorist activities in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Mr. Salah and Mr. Ashqar are in custody. A fugitive warrant was issued for Abu Marzook, who is believed to be in Syria.

The indictment said the three used U.S. banks and others abroad to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas suicide bombings in Israel and the West Bank. They were accused of conspiracy, money laundering, obstruction of justice, providing material support to terrorist organizations, hostage-taking and forgery.

The indictment said Abu Marzook and Mr. Ashqar, along with Mr. Elbarasse and others, used bank accounts in Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, New York, Louisiana and Mississippi to wire hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United States from sources abroad, which later were returned to Hamas operatives in Israel.

The indictment said one of the transactions involved $900,000 in multiple wire deposits to a Virginia bank account maintained by Abu Marzook and Mr. Elbarasse.

The indictment also said Mr. Elbarasse met with Hamas members in Philadelphia in 1993 to discuss its activities in the United States. In 1998, he was given immunity to testify before a New York grand jury about Hamas, but refused and served eight months for contempt.

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