Arrest of three Hamas activists

U.S. officials have arrested two men whom they accuse of funneling money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the past 15 years, the Justice Department said on Friday. Mohammed Hamid Khalil Salah was arrested in Chicago and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar in northern Virginia on Thursday. The United States issued an arrest warrant for a third man, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, who was identified as the deputy chief of Hamas' political bureau and a former U.S. resident who lives in Syria. A Justice Department spokesman declined to say whether the United States would seek his extradition. "The individuals named in this indictment are alleged to have played a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism. They are alleged to be material supporters of a foreign terrorist organization," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told a news conference. All three were charged with the racketeering conspiracy in an indictment which also seeks forfeiture of about $2.7 million from accounts that the defendants control. All three men were accused of using U.S. bank accounts to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas activities. In addition to racketeering, Salah, 51, was charged with providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of justice. The indictment accuses him of recruiting and training new Hamas members and helping funnel money to finance the militant group's operations. He was expected to appear on Friday before a U.S. magistrate in Chicago. Ashqar, 46, was also charged with obstruction of justice and contempt of court. The indictment alleges that he served as a conduit for Hamas funds and an administrator for the group. He is expected to appear on Friday before a magistrate in Alexandria, Virginia. Marzook, 53, has lived in Louisiana and northern Virginia. Ashcroft said he currently lives in Damascus. The State Department formally designated Hamas a "foreign terrorist organization" in 1997. Both Marzouk and Salah have previously been listed as "specially designated terrorists" by the Treasury, informs Reuter. According to NYTimes, a senior official of a Palestinian militant group who is accused of conspiring to finance terror attacks against Israel denied the accusations on Friday and said they were driven by election-year politics in the United States. The official, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, deputy chief of the political bureau of the militant group Hamas, is in Syria and was indicted in the United States along with two other men. "This is election campaigning," he said, speaking by telephone from Damascus, where he has been living for several years. He said that he had "nothing to do with" the accusations and that American officials "want to say to the American public that they are succeeding in fighting terrorism." AABCNEWS publishes, that Hamas leader and two other suspected members of the Palestinian militant group were indicted on charges they participated in a lengthy racketeering conspiracy to provide money for terrorist acts in Israel, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Friday. The three activists allegedly used bank accounts in the United States to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas, which the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization. The indictment against the three, filed in Chicago, was unsealed Friday. The activists include Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, formerly chief and now deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau. Abu Marzook is believed to be living in Damascus, Syria, and is considered a fugitive, Ashcroft told a news conference at the Justice Department. The two others Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah of Chicago and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar of Alexandria, Va. were arrested late Thursday night. It was the second major Hamas-related indictment announced by the Justice Department in the past month. The three were charged with racketeering conspiracy for allegedly joining with 20 others since at least 1988 to conduct business for Hamas, which the government said included conspiracies to commit murder, kidnapping, passport fraud and other crimes. Hamas has been blamed for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel. Ashcroft said the three men "allegedly ran a U.S.-based terrorist and financing cell" associated with Hamas.

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