In a move aimed at stemming the flow of information and money from the United States to terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza, the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested a senior Hamas leader at New York’s Kennedy Airport.
Mousa Abu Mohamed Marzuk was arrested Tuesday afternoon after stepping off a plane from Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates, Attorney General Janet Reno confirmed Thursday. 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, an INS spokeswoman.
Reno added, “We’re reviewing his immigration status and reviewing all issues with respect to that.”
Officials from the U.S. Justice Department and the Israeli Ministry of Justice are discussing the possibility of an extradition request. Both Israeli and American officials say the discussions are in the preliminary stages.
According to Justice Department officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Marzuk directs Hamas fundraising and political activities in the United States. He is also believed to have an office in Damascus, where he moved after being forced to leave Jordan earlier this year.
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.
Marzuk is being held at a detention center in New York pending exclusionary hearings which could take up to two months depending on the New York City backlog, Florman said. There is no bail in such cases, she added.
According to the INS, Marzuk 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 Marzuk’s presence on the flight.
Marzuk, 44, 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 Marzuk 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 Marzuk 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,” Marzuk told a December 1990 rally in Kansas City.
INS officials will seek to remove Marzuk from the country by arguing that his fundraising activities contribute to terrorist acts abroad, officials said.
If deported without an extradition request, Marzuk will be returned to Dubai, officials said.