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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Alleged Hamas figure arrested by Md. police

: A man described in a federal indictment as a 'high-ranking' Hamas operative was arrested in Maryland on Friday videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, authorities acknowledged last night.

Ismael Selim Elbarasse of Annandale, Va., long suspected by authorities of having financial ties to the Palestinian terrorist group, was taken into custody as a 'material witness' in a Chicago terrorism case, according to Maryland's U.S. attorney's office.

Elbarasse made an initial appearance in Baltimore's federal courthouse yesterday before U.S. District Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm.

In the indictment by a federal grand jury in Chicago, unsealed and announced on Friday, Elbarasse is described as a 'co-conspirator' in a 15-year racketeering conspiracy in the United States and abroad to illegally finance terrorist activities in Israel.

Elbarasse was not indicted, but court documents allege that he and defendant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook - considered one of the highest-ranking Hamas leaders internationally - shared a Virginia bank account that was used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas.

Abu Marzook resides in Syria and is considered a fugitive from justice, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. The other two defendants charged in the indictment are Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah of suburban Chicago and Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar of Fairfax County, Va.

Elbarasse is not charged with any wrongdoing in Maryland, authorities said.

'He is being held only on the material witness charge,' said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

Elbarasse was taken into custody Friday afternoon, soon after he was spotted by two off-duty Baltimore County police officers on the Bay Bridge.

The officers, assigned to the department's marine unit, were returning from a training exercise in a marked car when they noticed a male occupant of a passing sport utility vehicle videotaping the bridge, authorities said.

The occupants of the SUV - a man, a woman and two children - appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent and were seen 'hiding the camera,' authorities said.

At the toll plaza, the Baltimore County officers reported what they had seen to Maryland Transportation Authority Police. Its officers stopped the SUV west of the bridge and confiscated the camera, authorities said. Authorities said the camera had recorded close-up images that seemed atypical for a tourist.

When questioned by police, the couple said they were returning 'from the beach,' but were not specific about which beach. In the car was little luggage and two beach chairs, authorities said.