Israel seeks to extradite Hamas activist detained in New York

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JERUSALEM — One week after the arrest of a senior Hamas official in New York, Israel has initiated extradition proceedings to bring the man to justice.

As a preliminary step, a Jerusalem court issued a warrant for the arrest of Musa Muhammad Abu Marzook on Monday.

Israel's State Attorney's Office said Israel would seek a temporary detention of Marzook in the United States until a formal application for his extradition is filed.

Israel will ask that Marzook be handed over to Israel to be prosecuted for a number of charges, including conspiracy to murder, Israel Radio reported.

Marzook, 44, was arrested July 25 at New York's Kennedy Airport after stepping off a plane from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He is being held at a detention center in New York.

"We believe he is a leader of Hamas and has participated in activities which would exclude him from coming to the United States," said Carol Florman, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which made the arrest.

Hamas, a militant Islamic fundamentalist group responsible for dozens of terrorist attacks in Israel, raises tens of millions of dollars in the United States, law enforcement officials estimated.

The warrant for Marzook's arrest came after Israel's decision to seek extradition. That decision was made at a meeting Sunday night attended by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and senior army and Justice Ministry officials.

Peres later said that the decision was a "matter of principle."

"It's clear that in a such a short time you cannot examine all the legal issues," Peres told Army Radio. "But you can do what we did, which was to make a decision of principles.

"No doubt, Marzook is the head of the Hamas. He has responsibility in the terrible things Hamas did," Peres said, adding that the political message Israel was trying to stress was that "Israel is determined to fight terror, the terror organizations and its leaders, without hesitation."

Prior to the meeting, legal sources said it was unlikely Israel would submit an extradition request, given insufficient legal evidence directly linking him to terror acts against Israelis.

But security sources attending the meeting were quoted as saying that a case could be built against Marzook, using intelligence information that showed he issued directives for Hamas attacks on Israeli targets.

All parties at the meeting reportedly supported the request for extradition.

The first concrete steps toward filing that request took place in the Jerusalem Magistrate's court on Monday, where the state attorney asked for the arrest warrant.

The state attorney described Marzook as head of the Hamas' political bureau, setting policies on attacks, issuing orders for its activists and transferring funds for Hamas activities, including military operations.

A Justice Ministry statement outlined Marzook's activities over the past six years.

It said that between 1990 and 1993, Marzook dispatched emissaries to the territories who organized Hamas military activities in the area.

The statement said he also took part in transferring tens of thousands of dollars used to purchase weapons tied to attacks against Israelis.

In 1989, emissaries of Marzook arrived in Gaza, and issued detailed instructions for the establishment of the Hamas infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including its military operations.

In 1991, he worked in the United States to increase Hamas' military activity in the territories, according to the statement.

In 1992, he sent an emissary from the United States to the territories, who carried with him substantial sums of money to finance Hamas activities.

The state attorney said these activities were evidence of Marzook's intent to "carry out murders, cause grievous bodily harm and inflict injuries with malicious intent, toward Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers."

The state attorney said the actions "violate various articles of the criminal code dealing with murder, manslaughter and related crimes."

Not cited in the list of crimes, however, was terrorist activity.

Justice Minister David Libai explained that terror is not included in the extraditable offenses in the understanding between Israel and the United States.

"We are limited according to the convention of extradition between the government of the United States and Israel," he told Israel Radio.

The convention was signed in 1963, and did not include terror activities as extraditable offenses, he said.

Once Israel submits its extradition request, it will have two months to prepare evidence against Marzook if the request is approved.

But Libai was cautious.

"The fact that we are asking" for Marzook's extradition "doesn't require the American officials to keep him," he told Army Radio. "They can consider our request in their own decision-making or not."

Marzook is being held pending exclusionary hearings, which could take up to two months depending on the New York City backlog, said Florman of the INS. There is no bail in such cases, she added.

According to the INS, Marzook received a green card in a 1990 lottery for would-be immigrants.

He has attended school in Louisiana on and off for the past few years. Officials refused to say who tipped them off to Marzook's presence on the flight.

Marzook was traveling with his wife and six children, four of whom are U.S. citizens, at the time of his arrest. There are no charges pending against his wife, Nadia Mohamad el Ashi.

The arrest is the latest move by the Clinton administration to cut off the access of Middle East terrorist groups to the lucrative American fund-raising market.

Earlier this year, President Clinton froze the assets of 13 terrorist groups and banned their agents from traveling to the United States. The detention of Marzook is the first arrest since the executive order went into effect.

A tape of a meeting with Palestinian activists obtained by Steven Emerson, a journalist who has tracked Islamic fundamentalists in the United States, reveals that Marzook has never hidden his desire to see Israel destroyed.

When the Jewish state was born it became "a spearhead in the heart of the Islamic world, and this spearhead needs to be confronted with a counter-spearhead to destroy it," Marzook told a December 1990 rally in Kansas City.

In an interview with a Lebanese newspaper last year, Marzook was quoted as saying, "We will continue with our jihad until Jerusalem is liberated and Palestine is returned to its owners."

Calling him "No. 3" in the Hamas chain of command, Emerson said Marzook was a "key player in setting up the Hamas infrastructure worldwide, including the U.S."