Three men have been charged in the United States with financing terrorist activities of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Two of the men have been arrested, and a third remains at large.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Friday that three men have been indicted on racketeering charges for allegedly laundering millions of dollars in funds for Hamas.
Mr. Ashcroft said the men were part of a U.S.-based cell that labored over a 15-year period to provide financial support for Hamas, which has been responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel.
"The individuals named in this indictment are alleged to have played a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism," he said. "They are alleged to be material supporters of a foreign terrorist organization, taking advantage of the freedoms of an open society to foster and finance acts of terror."
Included in the indictment is Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau who is now believed to be living in Syria. The two other men named in the indictment, Mohammad Hamid Khalil Salah of Chicago and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar of Alexandria, Virginia, were arrested late Thursday night.
This is the second major indictment related to Hamas within the past month. The Justice Department announced last month that the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which portrayed itself as a Muslim charity organization, was a front used to funnel funds to Hamas. Seven of the group's officers were indicted.
U.S. racketeering laws were originally designed to break up the activities of organized crime, but the government has more recently utilized them as a tool to disrupt the financing of terrorist groups.
Mr. Ashcroft said government investigations into terrorist activities have been made easier by provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
"This case would have been much more difficult to bring were it not for information-sharing authorized by the USA Patriot Act," he stated. "Information gathered by the intelligence community and now shared with law enforcement was critical in completing this investigation and bringing this indictment."
Some provisions of the Patriot Act are up for renewal soon by Congress. The law is controversial. Supporters say it has helped fight terrorism, but opponents say it violates civil liberties.