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Hamas in America By: Erick Stakelbeck
The New York Sun | Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Israel's assassination Monday of Hamas leader Khaled Abu Shamiyeh was a significant victory in the country's war against Palestinian terrorism. But it was by no means a decisive blow. Although Hamas has suffered numerous setbacks over the past several months - including the deaths of group kingpins Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi - it continues to expand its operations on a global scale. And, contrary to the longtime press canard that Hamas "only" seeks the destruction of Israel, and bears no ill will toward America, America is anything but safe from the group's wrath.

On August 20, two suspected high-level Hamas operatives, Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, were detained on American soil and charged with providing material support to Hamas, racketeering, and money laundering.

That same day, accused Hamas money man Ismail Elbarasse was arrested after authorities witnessed his wife videotaping Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Bridge from their SUV as Mr. Elbarasse drove. The images captured by Mr. Elbarasse's wife included close-ups of cables and other features "integral to the structural integrity of the bridge," according to court papers.

Given that Mr. Elbarasse was recently announced as an unindicted co-conspirator in a scheme to finance Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, you'd think the Bay Bridge incident would raise serious alarms.

Indeed, if an American-based Al Qaeda operative was charged with a comparable offense, the press coverage would no doubt be incessant. As it was, news of Mr. Elbarrasse's arrest made headlines for a day or two and then all but disappeared.

This casual indifference to the threat of Hamas members operating within America is not only misguided, it's dangerous. Hamas has long talked of expanding its operations to include American targets, and continues to closely align itself with Iran and Syria, both persistent thorns in America's side.

It's common knowledge, too, that America serves as a fertile base for Hamas fund-raising activity. And FBI agents have expressed concern that the group's operatives in America currently have the capacity to carry out terrorist attacks on American soil. In fact, in an FBI affidavit filed in Mr. Elbarrasse's case, agent Shawn Devroude stated that Al Qaeda has been enlisting Hamas members to conduct surveillance of American targets. But these revelations should surprise no one, given Hamas's history of animosity toward America.

Last month, Hamas political head Khaled Mash'al, along with several other Islamist leaders, signed a statement calling on Muslims around the world to join with the Al-Mahdi Army of extremist cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in its fight against American forces in Iraq.

This followed an April vow by Mr. Al-Sadr himself to serve as the "striking arm" for Hamas in Iraq.

In one of his last public appearances, Hamas chief Abdel al-Aziz Rantisi - who was killed by Israeli defense forces in April - took part in a Gaza rally in support of the Iraqi insurgency.

Amid chants of "Death to America" and the burning of American flags by onlookers, Rantisi called on Iraqis to "strike and burn" U.S. troops, and "teach them the lessons of suicide actions."

Rantisi also wrote a 2003 article, published on a Hamas Web site, titled "Why Shouldn't We Attack the United States?" In the piece, Rantisi stated that, for Hamas, attacking America was not only "a moral and national duty - but above all, a religious one."

At an April memorial service for Rantisi in Syria, Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al said that "[Hamas's] battle is with two sides. One of them is the strongest power in the world, the United States, and the second is the strongest power in the region [Israel]."

Last December, Israeli authorities charged Jamal Aqal, a Canadian citizen born in Gaza, with receiving weapons and explosives training from Hamas for use in terrorist operations in Canada and New York City. Although Aqal intended to hit North American targets, his arrest was largely ignored by the American press.

While many of Hamas's surviving leaders have been forced underground in recent months thanks to Israel's efficiency in killing high-ranking terrorists, they've been anything but idle. Last week, Mash'al emerged from hiding to travel to Egypt, where he had confidential talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

In addition, earlier this month, Hamas carried out a pair of suicide bombings in the Israeli town of Beer Sheba that killed 16 people and wounded more than 100 others. The group also continues to distribute tapes and posters throughout the Palestinian territories touting Chechen terrorist leader Shamil Basayev, the mastermind behind the recent Beslan school massacre.

If, as expected, Hamas makes significant inroads into parliament during the upcoming Palestinian elections, American press outlets might finally begin to take the looming threat posed by the group more seriously.

The question may no longer be if Hamas will attack America, but when.

Mr. Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.

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