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Va. Man Tied to Hamas Held as Witness

Annandale Resident Detained After Wife Allegedly Filmed Bay Bridge

By Eric Rich and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 25, 2004; Page B01

Federal agents on Saturday seized hundreds of items from the home of an Annandale man allegedly tied to the radical Palestinian group Hamas after he was detained by police in Maryland, where officers said they saw his wife videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

In searching the home and vehicle of Ismael Selim Elbarasse, authorities said they found bank records belonging to Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, deputy chief of Hamas's political wing. A federal indictment unsealed Friday in Chicago charges Marzook in an alleged conspiracy that authorities said raised millions of dollars for Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist group for carrying out bombings, kidnappings and other attacks in Israel.

Post's Makron on Bay Bridge Tape The Washington Post's Jerry Markon discusses the detention of Ismael Selim Elbarasse, who has been linked to the radical Palestinian group Hamas, after his wife was seen videotaping the Bay Bridge.

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Authorities said Elbarasse, 57, who was named an unindicted co-conspirator by the grand jury in Chicago, was an assistant to Marzook. He was taken into custody Friday and is being held as a material witness in the case against Marzook and two other men indicted in Chicago, one of whom is from Fairfax County.

Details of the searches of Elbarasse's home and vehicle and the circumstances of his detention by police in Maryland are contained in court documents made public in federal court in Alexandria and Baltimore.

Baltimore County police officers returning from a training exercise Friday afternoon said they noticed a woman videotaping the bridge from a passenger seat of a sport-utility vehicle being driven across the bridge by a man. She lowered the camera when she saw the officers, and the SUV slowed in an apparent effort to force the police cruiser to pass, authorities said.

The officers contacted Maryland Transportation Authority police, who have jurisdiction over the bridge. Officers stopped the SUV west of the bridge. The woman, who is not identified by name in court papers, surrendered the videotape, authorities said.

The driver was Elbarasse, and authorities said in court papers that the woman is his wife. Also in the SUV were Elbarasse's 21- and 19-year-old daughters and his 14-year-old son, authorities said. No one was arrested in connection with the videotaping.

The videotape from the SUV showed the Elbarasse family packing for a vacation but also included footage of "the cables and upper supports of the main span" of the Bay Bridge, according to the court documents.

Appearing with Elbarasse on Monday before Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, defense attorney Franklin W. Draper said Elbarasse, a naturalized U.S. citizen, would have "no hesitation whatsoever to return to Chicago and appear before a grand jury."

Elbarasse, an accountant, has been living openly and has never been asked to testify before the grand jury, according to lawyer Stanley L. Cohen of New York, who also represents Elbarasse. Cohen said the arrest was meant to generate publicity for the Bush administration.

If authorities wanted Elbarasse to testify before the grand jury in Chicago, Cohen said, "all someone had to do was pick up a phone and make a phone call. But that doesn't win votes. No one knocked on his door. No one reached out to me."

Of the videotaping by the woman, he said: "If her name was Ginger and she had blond hair and blue eyes and was driving in a [BMW], it would not have been a problem."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Chicago declined to comment, as did a spokeswomen for Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio.

According to the court documents, when asked why they were videotaping, Elbarasse's wife, over her husband's objections, told police the family was merely taping scenery and added: "Is it a crime to videotape a bridge?''

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