- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

If Americans were polled, we trust that a majority or near-majority of adults would be able to identify Lindsay Lohan, Danny DeVito or Paris Hilton, and a significant minority (amounting to tens of millions of people) could talk at mind-numbing length about boorish celebrity behavior and the latest idiocies recounted in the tabloids. By contrast, an infinitesimal number of Americans know anything about Muhammad Salah or Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar, now on trial in U.S. District Court in Chicago, accused of financing Hamas. Hamas, elected to run the Palestinian Authority in January, is a major player in the transnational jihadist network supported by Iran and Syria, which is systematically working to foment terror and marginalize American influence throughout the Middle East.

This is particularly significant in view of the fact that the Iraq Study Group (ISG), co-chaired by Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, has suggested that Washington try to get “A Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist.” To put it mildly, this is going to be a very difficult endeavor: In the past few days, senior Hamas representatives in Damascus and Gaza have declared that they will never recognize the Jewish state. And in making their case against Messrs. Salah and Ashqar, prosecutors are implicitly showing just how delusional it is of the ISG to think that Hamas would ever accept Israel.

Mohammed Shorbagi, a mosque leader in Rome, Ga. who pled guilty in April to providing financial support for Hamas, testified about Hamas documents in his home that were sent to him by Mr. Ashqar in 1995. When asked about Mr. Ashqar’s role as head of an organization called the Al Aqsa Educational Fund, Shorbagi said Mr. Ashqar’s responsibility was “to work toward the destruction of Israel.” Also at the trial, FBI Special Agent Jill Pettorelli testified about what appeared to be internal Hamas documents found in Mr. Ashqar’s Oxford, Miss. home during a Dec. 26, 1993 FBI search. These documents outlined Hamas’s strategy for combatting diplomatic initiatives for Middle East peace — and in particular, making sure that the 1991 Madrid peace conference which resulted in large part from Mr. Baker’s indefatigable diplomatic efforts yielded nothing. Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project, who has been carefully monitoring the trial, reports that other documents submitted into evidence dealt with the importance of building relations between Hamas and other terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and the Damascus-based PFLP. A special investigator with the U.S. attorney’s office testified about Mr. Salah’s personal finances in late 1992 and early 1993, around the time he was arrested by Israel for his role in financing Hamas. During that period, $985,000 was deposited into Mr. Salah’s account by Musa Abu Marzouk — a former resident of Northern Virginia who is a senior Hamas leader and an associate. Marzouk, deported from the United States in 1997, is believed to be based in Damascus today.

In 2000, Mr. Salah and several Islamic charities were sued by Stanley and Joyce Boim, whose son David died in a 1996 Hamas attack on a bus stop in Jerusalem. The Boims held that, because Mr. Salah and the charities financed Hamas, they should be held financially liable for David’s slaying. Two years ago, a Chicago jury in that civil case found Mr. Salah and the charities liable and awarded $156 million to the Boims. More information on the criminal prosecution of Messrs. Salah and Ashqar can be found at the Counterterrorism Blog.

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