Five executives of a suburban Dallas computer firm have been indicted in an alleged conspiracy to conceal financial transactions with a leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement who has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. government, officials announced yesterday.
Mousa Abu Marzook, a senior leader of the group, which is commonly known as Hamas, also was indicted by the federal grand jury in Dallas. The indictment alleged that officials of Infocom Corp. of Richardson, Tex., engaged in financial dealings with him even after the federal government officially designated him a terrorist in 1995, a violation of a federal law that prohibits such transactions.
Meanwhile, a federal task force yesterday announced the arrest of six men in the Detroit area and searches of 10 homes and businesses there over allegations that they were involved in the unlicensed transfer of as much as $50 million to Yemen. The crackdown followed three arrests based on similar allegations Tuesday in the Buffalo area.
Yesterday's actions represent a ratcheting-up of the government's war on the financing of terror, and the Texas indictment is another sign that the Bush administration makes little distinction between suicide bombings by the al Qaeda terrorist network and similar operations conducted against Israelis by Hamas, experts said.
"The war against terrorism is a war of accountants and auditors, as well as a war of weaponry and soldiers," Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said at a news conference at the Justice Department yesterday. "Just as we will prosecute the terrorists who plant the bomb, we will prosecute the terrorist supporters who write the check." Ashcroft noted that 24 Americans have died in suicide attacks by Hamas, which the government has designated a terrorist organization.
Telephone calls seeking comment yesterday from Infocom, a computer exporter and Internet service provider, were referred to its attorneys, who did not return messages. In the past the company and its executives have strenuously denied any connection to terrorism or Hamas.
Infocom is closely intertwined with its next-door neighbor in Richardson, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the nation's largest Islamic charity, which federal officials say is also a financier of Hamas. One of the men indicted yesterday, Infocom Vice President Ghassan Elashi, is also the chairman of Holy Land, which was shut down by the government last December.
For years, Infocom provided Internet services to Holy Land and several other Muslim groups under investigation by the U.S. government for alleged ties to terrorists.
A number of yesterday's criminal charges are based largely on documents removed during a court-authorized search of Infocom's offices six days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, Marzook lived in the United States, including at various times in Falls Church and helped establish a number of Muslim charities and political groups, government officials said.
The key charges in the indictment of Marzook and his wife, Nadia Elashi, and five of her cousins who run Infocom, stem from what the government describes as Marzook's investment of $250,000 in the firm in 1992 and 1993.
In the search of Infocom, agents found papers that showed Marzook made an initial investment of $150,000 in the firm in 1992, and that his wife made a subsequent investment of $100,000. But U.S. officials say both sums appeared to be Marzook's money. In 1993, the firm agreed to repay Nadia Elashi the entire amount, a deal the indictment said was a sham because the actual recipient of the repayments was Marzook.
Between 1995 and last year, the company sent Nadia Elashi checks as repayment for much of the $250,000. The money was actually going to Marzook himself, officials said, and the fact that the U.S. government had designated him a terrorist in 1995 made such transactions illegal.
Marzook was deported in 1997, lived for a while in Jordan and is now in Syria. He is the deputy chief of Hamas's political bureau, which the indictment said is the group's "highest-ranking leadership body" and directs both terrorist attacks and Hamas's extensive charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza.
"This action shows the Bush administration is determined to stop all funds going to terrorists, wherever they operate, including in Israel," said Rita Katz, a terrorism specialist and director of the SITE Institute, a private research group. "It's the first time the government has used criminal charges involving Palestinian organizations committing terrorism."
The five Elashi brothers who help run Infocom -- Ghassan, Bayan, Basman, Hazim and Ihsan -- were also charged with selling computers and computer parts to Libya and Syria in the late 1990s without the required export licenses from the Commerce Department. The indictment said they also tried to hide the exports by, for example, claiming on government documents that one export to Libya was destined for Malta.
In a separate operation yesterday, agents assigned to Operation Green Quest, the Customs Service-led task force that focuses on terrorism funding, arrested six men in Michigan on charges that they sent as much as $50 million to Yemen without proper licenses using informal financial houses, or hawalas. These networks, often relying on family or tribal connections, transfer money across the globe without using the traditional banking system and have been exploited for years by terrorists.
Investigators also seized five bank accounts in Detroit and nearby Dearborn as part of the probe. The action comes one day after other federal agents arrested three men in the Buffalo area on similar charges.
One of them, candy and cigarette wholesaler Mohammed Albanna, was charged with allegedly sending $500,000 to Yemen in recent months without proper permits. Albanna is a leader of the Yemeni community in Lackawanna, N.Y., and the uncle of a man listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case of six young men from that town, indicted in October on charges of providing material support to al Qaeda.