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.
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?''
Authorities said they seized six additional videotapes from the SUV but have not said in court documents what the tapes contain.
In addition to Marzook, the indictment in Chicago charges former Howard University professor Abelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, of Fairfax County and Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah, 51, of suburban Chicago. Salah and Ashqar were arrested Thursday. Marzook, expelled from the United States in 1997, is believed to be living in Syria.
Elbarasse has not been charged with any crimes in Maryland and is not charged in Chicago. The indictment says that, beginning as early as 1990, he and Marzook maintained a joint bank account that was used to transfer "substantial sums" of money to Hamas members, including Salah.
Elbarasse was jailed for eight months in 1998 after he refused to testify in New York before a federal grand jury investigating terrorism.
At Elbarasse's home on Whistler Court, agents seized computer disks, bank records and Arabic documents, including one document titled "For Your Eyes Only -- How to Propagate Islam."
Also seized, according to court records, were copies of checks from the Dar Al-Hijra mosque in Falls Church; an Arabic CD with an "evaluation of the Jihad movement"; a piece of paper containing the address of the Norfolk Naval Station; Israeli travel documents; various "anti-Israel materials"; and documents concerning the Muslim Brotherhood, a secretive movement of political activists dedicated to restoring Islamic rule in secular Arab societies.
In addition, agents seized a document called an "anarchist cookbook" and an item referred to in court records as "Spreadsheet of trained pilots 'Law Enforcement Only.' ''
In an affidavit filed in support of the search warrant, FBI agent Shawn S. Devroude wrote that Elbarasse "is a known associate of various individuals possibly linked to terrorism." The affidavit states that the FBI has reason to believe that Elbarasse and his wife were violating federal law by providing "material" support to a foreign terrorist organization.