U.S. report: Bin Ladens network is training terrorists for Hamas

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WASHINGTON — The week that Israeli and Palestinian security forces arrested members of a terrorist group linked to millionaire terror mastermind Osama bin Laden, a U.S. report suggested the likelihood of such groups planning attacks against Israel and trying to thwart the peace process.

According to a Congressional Research Service report issued last week, there have been growing signs that bin Laden might be planning terrorist actions and trying to disrupt the peace process.

Cells operated by bin Laden in Jordan and Lebanon were discovered recently, although no attacks linked to bin Laden were carried out in either country.

The report suggests that guerillas with the militant Islamic group Hamas are gravitating to bin Laden's network because they fear Hamas might not oppose a Palestinian peace deal with Israel.

Israeli officials maintain that the 23 activists arrested last week belong to militant Islamic groups. A Gaza resident was a cell leader and officials say Hamas sent him to Pakistan three years ago to study terror techniques with bin Laden's organization.

If there is indeed a shifting allegiance of Hamas radicals to join bin Laden's group, then the threat to Israel and the peace process is significant, said the report's author, Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs. "This could lead to a very sharp, very sudden upturn in violence," he said.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night a botched raid to capture a Hamas leader in the West Bank resulted in three Israeli deaths, reportedly by "friendly fire." The Hamas leader, Mahmoud abu Hunoud, who was wounded, escaped and later surrendered to Palestinian security forces.

Hamas radicals could be turning to bin Laden because he represents the last bastion of radical ideology and because he has the money to take on anyone, Katzman said.

Bin Laden is estimated to have about $300 million in financial assets with which he funds as many as 3,000 militants, according to the report.

But Hamas so far denies the association with bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

"Hamas and I have no connection with bin Laden," Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin said last week in Gaza. He accused Israel of spreading false stories to increase pressure on the Palestinian Authority to act against Hamas.