News Analysis: Charges Against Hamas Leader Revive Call for Terror Legislation

Charges that a detained leader of the militant fundamentalist Hamas movement ran a terrorist network from the United States has reinvigorated the Jewish call for Congress to pass strong anti-terrorist legislation.

But the prospects that the bill now under consideration would thwart people such as Musa Muhammad Abu Marzook from engaging in extensive fund raising in the United States do not appear encouraging.

Marzook, 44, was arrested July 25 at New York’s Kennedy Airport after stepping off a plane from Dubai, a part of the United Arab Emirates.

Israel has officially launched proceedings to extradite Marzook, who has lived in the United States for 19 years.

In a brief court hearing Tuesday in New York, a federal magistrate formally told Marzook of Israel’s desire to extradite him on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.

According to an Israeli complaint presented to the court, Marzook is the head of the political bureau of Hamas, which rejects the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

But the complaint also said Hamas’ political bureau was responsible for “directing and coordinating” terrorist acts by Hamas in Israel and the territories. Hamas is responsible for killing 70 Israeli civilians and 40 soldiers and wounding nearly 100 others since January 1989, the Israeli complaint said.

Marzook has admitted that he is a political leader and fund-raiser for Hamas, but has denied taking any part in violence.

Stanley Cohen, Marzook’s lawyer, reportedly said it would be difficult for Israel to prove its case in an American court.

The Israeli complaint also said Marzook transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to the group, which is based in Gaza.

U.S. law enforcement officials have estimated that Hamas raises tens of millions of dollars in the United States.

Fund raising among terrorist organizations has been one of the central concerns of Jewish groups pushing for tough anti-terrorism legislation.

Congressional calls for anti-terrorism legislation accelerated in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in April. At that time, much of the debate shifted emphasis from countering international terrorism to containing domestic terrorism.

In June, the Senate passed a bill that sought to combat both domestic and international terrorism by allowing broader government investigations, tighter immigration controls and bans on fund raising in the United States for terrorist organizations.

To prevent fund raising, the bill allows for the State Department to designate a group as terrorist and thereby render illegal and donations made to the group.

But the provisions related to fund raising quickly came under fire by Jewish groups, who charged that the measure was riddled with loopholes.

Most problematic, according to critics, was that the bill excludes a ban on domestic affiliates of the group, requires the government to prove before a judge that the governing body of the targeted organization knowingly supported terrorist activity and requires a 30-day waiting period before the ban on a designated terrorist group can into effect.

Jewish groups, who have made counter terrorism legislation a centerpiece o their Washington agenda, are now pinning their hopes on the House Of Representatives to rectify the problems in the Senate bill.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill earlier this summer and floor debate in the House is scheduled for late September or early October.

Most Jewish activists publicly support the House version of the bill.

“Our feeling is that the House bill goes a long way in dealing with terrorism,” said Jess Hordes, Washington director of the Anti-Defamation League.

But privately, some have suggested that even though the bill does revise some of the provisions related to fund raising, the bill as it stands would not prevent fund raising by terrorists.

Although it eliminates the 30-day “stay” period in the Senate bill, the House bill would allow for a period of “public comment,” which many believe could still leave enough time for groups to transfer their funds before being shut down.

Further, the House version does not exempt domestic conduits from receiving money as the Senate bill does, but neither does it explicitly bar them. And, unlike the Senate version, the House bill does not freeze terrorist assets in American financial institutions.

Most Jewish groups believe the House bill would be more effective in countering terrorist activities in this country.

At the same, they worry that it would not do enough to contain the U.S.-based activities of Marzook and his Hamas organization, whose network is believed to be growing.

“These groups have established elaborate political, financial and in some areas, operational infrastructures in the United States,” terrorism expert Steven Emerson wrote in a recent article in The New Republican magazine.

Marzook provides the most concrete example of this burgeoning movement.

His detention by immigration officials when he tried to enter the United States last month has renewed a call for together law enforcement against immigrants suspected of terrorism.

Such provisions are being considered as part of the terrorism legislation.

But raising the specter of immigration restrictions also raises thorny civil rights questions. At what point does protecting national security infringe on the sacred territory of civil liberties? And would striking a delicate balance between these two important but often contradictory concerns prevent a future Marzook?

Jewish groups disagree over how best to maintain civil liberties and at the same time enable the deportation of immigrants suspected of terrorism.

At least one Jewish organization is so concerned over the issue that it does not support the current House version.

The House bill poses “a serious danger to the constitutional protections of all of us,” said Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Committee.

Despite all the jostling over details, however, Jewish leaders say the overall importance of the legislation must be kept in perspective.

“The very fact that we have a bill for the first time that will address terrorism is a very important step,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“One of two years, ago people though it wasn’t possible.”

NEXT STORY