- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

BALTIMORE — A man described as a top Hamas operative who was arrested after officers pulled him over near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was released yesterday on $1 million bond, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Ismael Selim Elbarasse was released after a closed detention hearing yesterday morning in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, said spokeswoman Vickie LeDuc.

Mr. Elbarasse was arrested earlier this month after officers pulled him over just west of the bridge after spotting a camera being used in the SUV in which he was riding. Police said that Mr. Elbarasse’s wife used a video camera to record footage of the structure.

Mr. Elbarasse was ordered released on the bond, which was set to ensure he would go to Illinois, where federal authorities in Chicago issued a material witness warrant Aug. 20 for him to appear before a grand jury. The grand jury is probing the financing of the Palestinian extremist group Hamas.

Neither Mr. Elbarasse, an accountant from Annandale, nor his wife was charged with any wrongdoing in the Aug. 20 bridge incident, and family members have said that they were making a video of their vacation. However, Maryland authorities held him after discovering that the material-witness warrant had been issued for him the same day.

Stanley L. Cohen, a New York lawyer representing Mr. Elbarasse, said that his client was going home to wait until he was called to appear in Chicago. Mr. Cohen said that a court appearance there had not yet been scheduled.

“He’s going home, and I suspect what he and his family will do is stop keeping photo albums of their vacation,” Mr. Cohen said.

He said that Mr. Elbarasse’s friends put up property to post the bond.

Court documents contend that Mr. Elbarasse and defendant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook — considered one of the highest-ranking Hamas leaders internationally — shared a Virginia bank account used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago wants to question Mr. Elbarasse, who was described in Mr. Marzook’s indictment as an unindicted co-conspirator.

The detention hearing was closed to the public.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm said that the critical need to protect the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings in Chicago, in which Mr. Elbarasse is wanted to testify, was the “overriding” interest in his decision to close the detention hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Harvey Eisenberg argued that the integrity of the grand jury process trumped the public’s “right to know.”

The detention hearing, initially scheduled for Friday, was delayed when newspapers filed motions to keep it open.

Mr. Elbarasse was jailed for eight months in 1998 after failing to testify before a federal grand jury that was investigating Hamas fund-raising.

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