The two men indicted in the United States on the charges of assisting Hamas – Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah, 51, of suburban Chicago and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, of suburban Washington – were arrested late Thursday. Officials accused them of helping to lead Hamas recruitment and fund-raising efforts in the country for the past 15 years.
Also indicted was Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, 53, a top political leader for Hamas who is believed to be in Syria. An arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Marzook, who was educated in the United States.
All three men were indicted on racketeering conspiracy and other charges, and they could receive life in prison if found guilty. The Justice Department is also seeking to have them forfeit $2.7 million and other assets as compensation for the money that prosecutors say was illegally funneled to Hamas to finance attacks in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and elsewhere in Israel over the years.
The men’s defense lawyers vowed to fight the charges, calling them politically motivated. There was no immediate reaction from Hamas.
The move is part of a broader effort by the Bush administration to cut off the supply of American money to militant groups like Hamas, which was designated as a terrorist group by the United States in 1995.
The indictments follow the arrests last year of five former leaders of the Holy Land Foundation in Texas, once the biggest Islamic charity in the United States, on charges that it funneled millions of dollars in illicit money to Hamas. The former charity leaders have denied the charges.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Mr. Marzook, Mr. Salah and Mr. Ashqar were part of a cell that “allegedly financed the activities of a terrorist organization that was murdering innocent victims abroad, including American citizens.”