An Annandale man jailed for 10 days as a witness in an investigation of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, was released on $1 million bond yesterday after a closed proceeding at U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Ismael Selim Elbarasse was freed after he and others posted their homes as collateral to ensure his appearance before a grand jury in Chicago, where Elbarasse is sought for questioning, his attorneys said.
Elbarasse, who was detained Aug. 20 after police said they saw his wife videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, walked out of the courthouse yesterday and was reunited with his family at the office of his attorney Franklin W. Draper.
Later, in Annandale, Elbarasse agreed to be photographed but declined to be interviewed. The accountant, who was born in Gaza and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has not been charged with a crime.
"I think it's a victory that he finally was able to get out," Draper said. "In a roundabout way, the system kind of worked in terms of getting him his freedom."
Elbarasse, 57, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator by the grand jury in Chicago. Authorities say Elbarasse was an assistant to Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, one of three men charged in an indictment unsealed in Chicago on Aug. 20.
The indictment charges Marzook, deputy chief of Hamas's political wing, with conspiring to raise millions of dollars for Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist group for carrying out bombings, kidnappings and other attacks in Israel. Elbarasse was arrested on a material witness warrant from Chicago.
In court filings, the FBI said Elbarasse and his wife, in videotaping the bridge, may have been scouting a potential terrorist target -- an assertion that has been vigorously disputed by Elbarasse's family and his attorneys.
No charges were filed in connection with the videotaping. Elbarasse's attorneys said no date has been set for his appearance in Chicago.
"It's amazing," said one of the attorneys, Stanley L. Cohen, who has questioned the government's motives for bringing the case. "Everyone was so anxious to put handcuffs on him, and there's no date for his appearance in Chicago. . . . John Ashcroft got the political mileage out of this that he wanted."
Elbarasse will appear before the grand jury, Cohen said, but whether he will testify is less clear. Elbarasse was jailed for eight months in 1998 for refusing to cooperate with a New York grand jury investigating terrorism. "He will do what his conscience and his politics and his life's work tell him he must do," Cohen said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm ruled Friday that the public would be excluded from yesterday's hearing, rejecting requests from lawyers for The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. Grimm said the hearing would involve evidence derived from the secret grand jury proceeding and thus must be closed to the public.
Elbarasse, one of his sons and two other Northern Virginia residents -- a surgeon and a schoolteacher -- posted their homes to secure his release, said Ashraf Nubani, an immigration attorney and family friend who organized the effort. The properties could be seized if Elbarasse fails to appear when he is summoned to Chicago.
Speaking at Elbarasse's home in Annandale, Nubani described the arrest as part of an "attack on Palestinian activism" and said, "The reality is, it's unfortunate that after 9/11 a Muslim family can't take video of their vacations. . . . They can't do what other Americans do freely because they are afraid."
Asked whether Elbarasse is a supporter of Hamas, Nubani said: "He's like any other Palestinian, and Palestinians look for justice and they look for some sort of redress to what's befallen them."