WASHINGTON (AP) _ A 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. Salah once worked as a substitute teacher in Chicago public schools.
The lawyer for Ashqar, Ashraf Nubani, called the indictment ``politically motivated.'' He noted that Ashqar already was under home arrest stemming from an earlier indictment on charges of obstruction of justice and said Ashqar has appeared at every required court hearing.
Federal prosecutor Neil Hammerstrom said the latest indictment includes charges ``far more serious'' against Ashqar than he originally had faced.
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.
They ``were indicted for their roles in 15-year racketing conspiracy in the U.S. and abroad. The cell allegedly financed the activities of a terrorist organization that was murdering innocent victims abroad including American citizens,'' he said.
He said the three played ``a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism.''.
The U.S.-educated Abu Marzook holds a Ph.D. in industrial engineering and lived in the United States for 15 years, in Louisiana and Virginia. In 1995, he was detained by U.S. authorities on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. He was expelled to Jordan, and later sent by Jordan to Syria.
Salah returned to the Chicago area and has said he volunteered at the Quranic Literacy Institute as a computer analyst. In 2002, he applied for a job as a part-time lecturer on computer systems at City Colleges of Chicago's Olive-Harvey College, but he was fired in 2003 for failing to disclose the Israel conviction.
Salah also worked for a time as a substitute teacher for the Chicago Public Schools and was removed from the list of approved substitutes at the same time he was fired by Olive-Harvey College.
Ashqar was accused of opening bank accounts in Mississippi for Hamas purposes.
Last month, a major American Muslim charity and seven of its senior officers were charged with illegally funneling millions of dollars to support Hamas.
The 42-count indictment unsealed in Dallas alleges the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development used its tax-exempt status to masquerade as a legitimate charity while most of its money was going to individuals and organizations linked to Hamas.