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Context of 'June 2-5, 2003: Suspected Hamas Operatives Living Openly in US'

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Hamas logo.
Hamas logo. [Source: Hamas]Hamas is a Palestinian group known both for charitable works benefiting the Palestinian population and suicide attacks against Israeli targets. Hamas was formed in 1987, after a Palestinian uprising began the year before. Some claim that Israel indirectly supported and perhaps even directly funded Hamas in its early years in order to divide the Palestinians politically. For instance, a former senior CIA official will later claim that Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] by using a competing religious alternative.” Hamas begins attacks on Israeli military and civilan targets in 1989 and will begin suicide attacks on these targets in April 1994. The US will not officially declare Hamas a terrorist organization until 1995 (see January 1995). This means that funding Hamas is not a crime in the US before that year, but knowingly participating in or supporting a violent act overseas outside of the rules of war such as a suicide bombing could still potentially result in criminal charges in the US. [United Press International, 6/18/2002; Associated Press, 3/22/2004] Mohammad Salah, a Palestinian-American living in Chicago as a used car salesman, was reputedly trained by Hamas in terrorist techniques, including the use of chemical weapons and poisons, in the late 1980s. Working on the orders of high-level Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, Salah leads a four day Hamas training camp in the Chicago area in June 1990. According to one trainee, the approximately twenty-five trainees study Hamas philosophy, receive weapons training, and learn how to plant a car bomb. Two of the trainees are ultimately selected to fly to Syria, where they undergo more advanced training in making car bombs and throwing grenades. Ultimately, they are sent into Israel to launch attacks. Similar training camps take place in Kansas City and Wisconsin from 1989 through early 1991. Then, Salah is told by Marzouk to change his focus from training to fundraising. In early 1992, Salah receives about $800,000 from Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi, and he temporarily invests it in a BMI real estate scheme (see 1991). Between June 1991 and December 1992, Salah repeatedly travels to the Middle East and spends more than $100,000 in direct support of Hamas military activities. He attempts to spend the $800,000 that is still invested in BMI, but BMI is unable to quickly liquidate the investment. Marzouk sends Salah almost $1 million to spend. Salah goes to the West Bank in January 1993 and begins dispersing that money, but he is arrested before the end of the month. With Salah arrested, Hamas needs a new point man to collect and transfer new money raised in the US. Jamil Sarsour, a grocery store owner in Milwaukee, is chosen. It will be reported in 2003 that Sarsour is still living openly in Milwaukee (see June 2-5, 2003) [Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001; LA Weekly, 8/2/2002; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Mousa Abu Marzouk, Central Intelligence Agency, Jamil Sarsour, Yassin al-Qadi, Mohammad Salah, Hamas, BMI Inc.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti.Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti. [Source: Muslim World League Canada]The FBI secretly records top Hamas leaders meeting in a Philadelphia hotel. Five Hamas leaders meet with three leaders of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation charity (see 1989), including CEO Shukri Abu Baker and chairman Ghassan Elashi. A peace accord between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had just been made, and this group meets to decide how to best oppose that. It is decided that “most or almost all of the funds collected [by Holy Land] in the future should be directed to enhance [Hamas] and to weaken the self-rule government” of Palestinian and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. According to an FBI memo released in late 2001 that summarizes the surveillance, “In the United States, they could raise funds, propagate their political goals, affect public opinion and influence decision-making of the US government.” The FBI also learns from the meeting that Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk gave Holy Land large sums of cash to get the charity started. Holy Land will eventually grow to become the largest Muslim charity in the US. In a January 1995 public conference also monitored by the FBI, Holy Land CEO Abu Baker will be introduced to the audience as a Hamas senior vice president. One Hamas military leader there will tell the crowd, “I’m going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis! Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” [New York Times, 12/6/2001; Emerson, 2002, pp. 89-90; CBS News, 12/18/2002] Investigators conclude at the time that some of Holy Land’s “key decision makers [are] Hamas members, the foundation [is] the primary US fundraising organ for Hamas, and most of its expenditures [go] to build support for Hamas and its goal of destroying Israel.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/5/2001] Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti is one of the attendees for Hamas. In 1995, he will be listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). In the early 1990s, he is the imam at a Jersey City, New Jersey, mosque where at least one of the WTC bombers regularly prays and where al-Qaeda leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman often delivers incendiary speeches. An FBI report claims Al-Hanooti raised more than $6 million for Hamas in 1993 alone, funneling much of it through the Holy Land Foundation. As of the end of 2005, Al-Hanooti will still be an imam in the US and will continue to deny all charges against him. [Albany Times-Union, 6/30/2002] Chicago FBI agents Robert Wright and John Vincent try and fail to get a criminal prosecution against the attendees of this meeting. Instead, the attendees will not be charged with criminal activity connected to this meeting until 2002 and 2004 (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Vincent will comment in 2002 that the arrests made that year could have been made in 1993 instead. One of the Hamas attendees of the meeting, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, will be not arrested until 2004 (see August 20, 2004), and other attendees like Ismail Selim Elbarasse have never been arrested. Elbarasse, a college roommate of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, will be detained in 2004 on the accusation of working with Marzouk to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas, but not charged. [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003; Baltimore Sun, 8/26/2004] Oliver “Buck” Revell, head of the Dallas FBI office at the time, will say after 9/11 that the US government should have shut down Holy Land as soon as it determined it was sending money to Hamas (even though raising money for Hamas is not a criminal act in the US until 1995 (see January 1995)). [Associated Press, 12/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Shukri Abu Baker, Ghassan Elashi, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Hamas, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, Yasser Arafat, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Oliver (“Buck”) Revell, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, John Vincent, Ismail Selim Elbarasse

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US officially designates Hamas operative Mohammad Salah a “Specially Designated Terrorist.” Wright had begun investigating Salah in early 1993 based on Salah’s widely publicized confession (see January 1993). Wright will later claim that he was ready to begin a criminal investigation in 1995, but he was not allowed to do so. Salah, who is serving a five year prison sentence in Israel at this time, will return to Chicago in November 1997 and live openly in the US despite his terrorist designation. Salah will not be charged for the crimes he allegedly committed in the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993) until 2004 (see August 20, 2004). [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 6/2/2003]

Entity Tags: Robert G. Wright, Jr., United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On December 17, 2001, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad release a joint manifesto declaring, “Americans are the enemies of the Palestinian people [and] a target for future attacks.” The next day, Hamas leaders issues a statement declaring that “Americans [are] now considered legitimate targets as well as Israelis.” So far, Hamas has not followed through with this threat. However, in February 2003, top Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will called on Muslims to “threaten Western interests and strike them everywhere” in the event of a war in Iraq, which will begin one month later. [National Post, 10/18/2003] Despite these threats, known Hamas operatives will continue to live openly in the US. For instance, the US officially declared Mohammad Salah a terrorist in 1995 (see June 2-5, 2003), the FBI knew he was living openly in Chicago since late 1997, and yet he will not be indicted for crimes committed in the early 1990s until 2004 (see August 20, 2004).

Entity Tags: Palestinian Islamic Jihad, United States, Hamas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelhaleem Ashqar.Abdelhaleem Ashqar. [Source: Paul J. Richards / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]NBS News and ABC News report that Mohammad Salah is living openly in Chicago. The US government had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist,” in 1995 and his name has remained on the list ever since (see February 1995). Salah was convicted in Israel for being a member of Hamas and served five years in prison. Suspected Hamas fundraiser Jamil Sarsour is running a grocery store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. US officials say Sarsour helped finance a string of suicide bus bombings in Israel, including one that killed two Americans. He also spent several years in an Israeli prison in the 1990s. Furthermore, suspected Hamas fundraiser Abdelhaleem Ashqar is working as a professor at Howard University in Washington. NBC additionally reports there are “about two dozen [other] alleged Hamas operatives in the United States now under investigation by the FBI.” FBI agent Robert Wright began investigating these men and others in the early 1990s. For instance, Ashqar organized a secret Hamas fundraising meeting in Philadelphia in the early 1990s that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). Wright believes Sarsour has been a pivotal figure in sending funds from the US to Hamas overseas since the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993). Wright claims that the FBI could have moved against Hamas in the US years before 9/11. He says, “The Hamas criminal enterprise has been flourishing since then. These guys are still operating strong today because we’re doing absolutely nothing about it. The FBI has turned a blind eye to what they are doing.” Salah, who had been employed as a college professor in Chicago since February 2002, is fired from his job as a result of these stories. [MSNBC, 6/2/2003; ABC News, 6/5/2003; ABC News, 6/12/2003] But the men are not arrested in the wake of the media reports. Salah and Ashqar will finally be indicted in August 2004 (see August 20, 2004).

Entity Tags: Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Jamil Sarsour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

August 20, 2004: Salah Finally Arrested

Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar are indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges. Salah and Ashqar are arrested. Marzouk, considered a high-ranking Hamas leader, is out of reach in Syria. Marzouk had been charged in 2002 on related matters (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Ashqar was already under house arrest on related charges of contempt and obstruction of justice. The three are accused of using US bank accounts to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas. The indictment alleges the laundered money was used to pay for murders, kidnappings, assaults, and passport fraud. Many of the charges date to the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993) and had been the subject of legal cases in 1998 and 2000 (see June 9, 1998; May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004). [New York Times, 8/21/2004; Associated Press, 8/24/2004] Salah and Ashqar had been living openly in the US for several years. The US had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist” in 1995 and he returned to Chicago in 1997 (see February 1995). The media reported on this in 2003 but they still were not arrested (see June 2-5, 2003). In 1993, Ashqar took part in a secret Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). [ABC News, 6/12/2003; New York Times, 8/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Mohammad Salah, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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