Detained Palestinian: Harmless dad or terrorist?

By WND Staff

Though his attorneys claim he’s harmless, Virginia resident Ismail Selim Elbarasse, now in federal custody, for years has been tied to stateside financing of Middle East terrorist organization Hamas.

The Annandale, Va., resident was taken into custody Friday after two off-duty Baltimore County police officers saw him videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from a sport utility vehicle, said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore.

Elbarasse was not charged with a crime but was detained on a material witness warrant issued by the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago.

Officials there want him to testify before a federal grand jury that described him in an indictment unsealed Friday as a “co-conspirator” in a racketeering scheme to finance terrorist activities against Israel. The conspiracy has been ongoing since at least 1989 in the United States and abroad.

Elbarasse and indicted defendant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook – considered one of the highest-ranking Hamas leaders worldwide – used a joint bank account in Virginia to launder “substantial sums” of money for Hamas members, according to the court documents.

Maryland Transportation Authority police stopped Elbarasse’s SUV west of the bridge after the off-duty Baltimore County officers reported seeing Elbarasse with a camera. The transportation authority police arrested Elbarasse after learning he was wanted in the Chicago case, Murphy said.

Federal public defender Franklin Draper, who represented Elbarasse in court Tuesday, has not returned a call seeking comment. Elbarasse’s wife declined to comment when the Washington Post contacted her at their home.

Who is Ismail Elbarasse?

Ismail Selim Elbarasse

Depending upon whom you ask, 57-year-old Ismail Elbarasse is either a harmless, misunderstood father of six who his attorney calls a “freedom fighter without a gun,” or a man with terrorist connections described by the U.S. Department of Justice as a “high-level Hamas operative” who has been instrumental in terrorist-group funding for the better part of the last decade.

What is known for certain is the following:

Elbarasse is a Palestinian American living in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area since at least 1992. Current commercial databases list his address as an upscale residence on Whistler Court in Annandale, Va.

He is married, and has two daughters and four sons. In the late 1990s, prior to his incarceration at Otisville, N.Y., for failing to respond to a grand jury, Elbarasse was comptroller of the Islamic Saudi Academy, a Saudi-funded private school in northern Virginia. It is unclear whether or not Elbarasse continued to be employed at the school after his release; officials from the Islamic Saudi Academy refused to comment.

Elbarasse links to Hamas

According to an article by Yehudit Barsky titled “Focus on Hamas: Terror by Remote Control,” published in June 1996 in the Middle East Quarterly, Elbarasse was implicated in the transfer of funds to the Ezzedine Qasseem Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in 1992. His article states:

To avoid the scrutiny that transferring large amounts of money internationally would generate, all evidence indicated that the transferal of funds for Hamas’ “military” activities took place in the United States. Abu Marzuq gave [Muhammad ] Salah $17,110 in July-August 1992, prior to the latter’s departure for Gaza later that summer. The checks were drawn on two personal accounts: one jointly owned by Abu Marzuq and Ismail Selim Elbarasse at the First American Bank in McLean, Va., and the second from an account belonging to Abu Marzuq at the Ruston State Bank in Ruston, La.

A Memorandum Opinion issued by U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in response to a Motion in Limine and to strike in a civil action brought against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (Civil Action No. 02-442 GK) by the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development states in footnote two, page six that “The parties do not dispute that Hamas is a terrorist organization.”

The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the U.S., was shut down after 9-11 for ties to the terrorist group Hamas. Its assets have been frozen.

The memorandum also makes reference to a three-day meeting in Philadelphia between representatives of Hamas and the Holy Land Foundation, stating:

The following Hamas leaders and activists were at the meeting: Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Akram Kharroubi, Mohamed Al Hanooti, Ismail Elbarasse, and Muin Kamal Mohamed Shabib. The HLF leaders in attendance were HLF co-founders Shukri Abu Baker and Ghassan Elashim and HLF employee Haitham Maghrwawi.

The document further states:

With respect to Hamas funding of HLF, The evidence establishes that in 1992, Hamas leaders and activists donated $210,000 to HLF. The checks were from Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook, Hamas activist and Marzook associate Ismail Elbarasse, and from Marzook’s associate and personal secretary Nasser Alkhatib.

Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island filed a determination that stated the following:

During the four week period immediately preceding Salah’s arrest in Israel, close associates of Abu Marzook initiated a series of wire transfers into Salah’s LaSalle Bank account totaling $985,000. On Dec. 29, 1992, $300,000 was transferred from an account, which was jointly held by Abu Marzook and Ismail Selim Elbarasse at the First American Bank of McLean, Va., to Salah’s LaSalle Bank account. Salah flew to Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 1993. After arriving there, Salah withdrew a significant portion of the $300,000 which had been placed into his account by Elbarasee.

Jan. 19, 1993, Salah directed the wire transfer of $200,000 from his LaSalle Bank account to an account at First Chicago Bank of Ravenswood held by Rihbe Abdel Rhaman, a moneychanger in Ramallah, West Bank. According to bank records reviewed by the FBI, the successful transfer of the $200,000 on Jan. 20, 1993, was closely followed by a succession of large wire transfers from Hamas-related sources into Mohammed and Azita [Salah]’s LaSalle Bank account. Records from the Salah’s LaSalle Bank account and the First American account of Elbarasse and Abu Marzook show that on Jan. 20, 1993, Elbarasee wire transferred $135,000 into the Salah’s LaSalle Bank account, and followed it with another wire transfer of $300,000 on Jan. 25, 1993.

Bank records for the First American Bank of Virginia account held jointly by Abu Marzook and Elbarasse show a further influx of overseas money just prior to this second round of wire transfers to the Salah’s LaSalle Bank account. On Jan. 4, 1993, a second $99,985 wire transfer was received into the First American Account from an individual named Gazi Abu Samah. On Jan. 22, 1993, the First American account was credited another $665,000 from a wire transfer from Faisal Financial of Geneva, Switzerland.

Another early mention of Elbarasse is found in a Washington Post article by John Mintz and Michael Grunwald published Oct. 31, 1998. At that time Elbarasse was in jail in New York at the time for refusing to appear before a grand jury investigating money-laundering.

According to the article, agents were reviewing the funds handled by Elbarasse, including bank accounts he shared with his friend and business partner Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, a longtime Fairfax County resident who was deported to Jordan in 1996. Marzook is widely believed to be the political head of Hamas.

In an eerily prophetic statement made in 1998, a senior FBI official is quoted as saying the following:

Some of these people are not who they seem. We know that whenever we do something, people are going to call us jackbooted thugs. But if we do nothing, people are going to yell at us when something blows up.

The federal indictment

An indictment filed by a Federal grand jury in Chicago further elaborates on the connection between Elbarasse and Hamas:

Ismail Selim Elbarasse, a/k/a “Ismail Selim El-barasse,” from at least as early as 1990, worked as an assistant to defendant ABU MARZOOK. Elbarasse maintained a joint bank account with defendant ABU MARZOOK that was used to transfer substantial sums of money to Hamas members, including defendant SALAH.

It further states:

Co-conspirator J was a Hamas member in the West Bank with whom defendant SALAH met in approximately January 1993 and who further traveled to the United States and established bank accounts to hold Hamas funds from defendant ABU MARZOOK and coconspirator Elbarasse to be utilized for Hamas purposes.

One of Elbarasse’s daughters, a 20-year-old, defended her father to WBAL-TV this week, saying the bridge videotaping was not meant as surveillance.

“We were on vacation for a couple of days and we were going home Friday morning. We crossed the bay bridge and we were videotaping our whole vacation, and part of that was videotaping the bay itself as we crossed the bridge,” the daughter, who would not reveal her name, told the station.

The woman claims the family was detained by the FBI Friday for seven hours of questioning.

Elbarasse’s daughter also said she believes that they may have been racially profiled.

She told WBAL: “If it was a Caucasian family that was doing the same thing that we did, they wouldn’t have had to go through all this. I think it’s an election year and they are trying to build something up.”

Related stories:

How U.S. extremists fund terror

WND goes inside ‘mainstream’ Muslim conference

Laura Mansfield is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience dealing with Middle East issues. She is fluent in written and spoken Arabic. She spent nearly seven years living and working in the region for a wide range of clients, including the United States Embassy, the United States Agency for International Development, and various international corporations.