JERUSALEM – Hamas has cells inside the United States that are technically capable of attacking the country, terrorism experts and senior security officials told WorldNetDaily.
The officials were responding to a WND exclusive interview last week in which Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Zahar warned President Bush’s actions in the Middle East are “placing America in danger.”
“We have information Hamas agents have been on U.S. soil the past few years and that the group may currently have up to 100 agents operating inside America,” said an FBI counterterrorism agent in New York speaking on condition of anonymity since he is not authorized to talk to the media.
The comments reaffirm testimony to the U.S. Senate this past February in which FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “Although it would be a major strategic shift for Hamas, its United States network is theoretically capable of facilitating acts of terrorism in the United States.”
Mueller described a Hamas network the FBI believes may be operating in the U.S. mostly for fundraising purposes. While many suspected Hamas-linked charities such as the national Holy Land Foundation have been shut down, the FBI suspects others are still functioning in America.
Holy Land was one of the largest Islamic charitable organizations in the U.S., and closed amid accusations the group was a front for Hamas.
Intelligence sources said the FBI believes Hamas’ current U.S. network includes trained jihadists capable of carrying out advanced attacks. Some of the Hamas agents are suspected of involvement with al-Qaida, the sources said.
Yehudit Barsky, director of the Middle East and International Terrorism Center at the American Jewish Committee said, “Hamas does have people in America who are Muslim Brotherhood-oriented who support Hamas and who could carry out attacks. … This presence in the U.S. exists.”
Terrorism expert Steve Emerson, whose research was credited with helping to close Holy Land, told WND, “Hamas has an extensive infrastructure in the U.S. mostly revolving around the activities of fundraising, recruiting and training members, directing operations against Israel, organizing political support and operating through human rights front groups. While Hamas has not acted outside Israel, it has the capability of carrying out attacks in America if it decided to enlarge the scope of its operations.”
The have been recent indications Hamas indeed has agents operating inside the U.S.
In August 2004, Ismail Selim Elbarasse, a long-time Hamas money man, was arrested reportedly after authorities witnessed his wife videotaping Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge from their SUV as Elbarasse drove. The images captured by Mr. Elbarasse’s wife included close-ups of cables and other features “integral to the structural integrity of the bridge,” according to court papers.
In an FBI affidavit requesting a search warrant for Elbarasse’s house obtained by WND, special FBI agent Shawn Devroude states, “In previous years, al-Qaida commanders and officials stationed in Western countries, including the United States, have recruited Hamas operatives and volunteers to carry out reconnaissance or serve as couriers. With the increased law enforcement pressure since 9-11, there has been a renewed emphasis by al-Qaida to find confirmed jihadist supporters in the U.S. by trying to enlist proven members of other groups such as Hamas to make up for the vacuum on the field level.”
Also in August of last year, two suspected high-level Hamas operatives, Mohammed Salah and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, were detained in America and charged with providing material support to Hamas, racketeering and money laundering.
Ashqar, under house arrest in Virginia, denied to WND he was involved with Hamas fundraising and claimed doesn’t know of any Hamas networks operating in America.
In November 2003, Jamal Aqal, a Canadian immigrant born in Gaza, was arrested in Israel under suspicion of receiving weapons and explosives training from Hamas for use in future terror attacks in Canada and New York City. Aqal pled guilty in 2004 to planning to kill American and Canadian Jewish leaders and Israeli officials traveling in the U.S.
Some analysts and counterterrorism officials are also worried al-Qaida agents Israel says infiltrated the Gaza Strip may be working with Palestinian terror groups to carry out attacks both in Israel and abroad.
Israeli Defense Forces military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi Farkash earlier this month confirmed Al-Qaida operatives were present in Gaza, crossing in from its border with Egypt after Israel withdrew from the area.
Erick Stakelbeck, a terrorism analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, told WND, “Now that al-Qaida has begun to set up shop in Gaza, the operational relationship between the two groups may only increase. This should cause the Bush administration great concern.”
The debate about Hamas’ capabilities in the U.S. follows Hamas chief al-Zahar’s statements to WorldNetDaily about his attitude toward America.
“I think Bush is doing an enormous historical crime by fighting against Islam and giving Islam adjectives like fascism and terrorism,” said al-Zahar. “I say that Bush puts in danger American interests when he chooses to fight against Islam and describe Islam in a negative way that makes him face 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. It is stupid that a person decides to push the West and Islam into a confrontation. Doing so puts in danger his own interests.”
Al-Zahar blasted America for “[pounding the caves in 2001 during operations in Afghanistan] at Tora Bora. … And what happened and is still happening in Faluja? Are the Americans shooting chocolates and biscuits on the local and innocent population? No, they are shooting missiles. … What about the Americans in charge of their prison in Abu Ghraib, sending dogs on the prisoners. Is this OK?”
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, points out what he says are other Hamas’ ideological justifications for attacking America. In 2003, Pipes writes, Hamas declared Bush “Islam’s biggest enemy,” and in 2004 called him “the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims.” Pipes also writes that a 2004 Hamas press release announced, “Hamas considers the U.S. as an enemy and as an accomplice to the Israeli enemy aggression against the Palestinians. … The U.S. will face responsibility for its position as an accomplice with Israel.”
Major General Yaacov Amidror, former head of Israel’s military intelligence, said he doesn’t believe Hamas will attack America anytime soon.
“While Hamas may have the ability to attack outside Israel, its creed is to focus its operations only against Israel and within the boundaries of the Jewish State. Partly this is because it doesn’t want to deal with the ramifications of being a global terror network. … The indications are Hamas is not looking to attack America in the foreseeable future.”
But Yossef Bodansky, a terror expert who served as director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, warned Hamas members might participate in an attack inside the U.S.
“Individual terrorists who are members of Hamas have taken active parts in numerous operations all over the world under global flags,” Bodansky told WND. “We have seen this starting with the Khartoum-based Armed Islamic Movement to a host of other Islamist-Jihadist movements affiliated with Osama bin Laden. Any spectacular strike in the U.S. will be conducted under an all-Islamic banner. There is no reason why Hamas members will not be part of such an all-Islamic force.”