Extradition of Hamas leader will boost to Islamic militants
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ Hamas warned Thursday of new violence if the United States extradites one of its leaders to Israel, but there are plenty of signs that the militant Islamic group wants him tried there.
Israel plans to try Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, who is now jailed in New York, for his alleged role in financing and plotting terror attacks. He is expected to arrive in the next two months.
Such a trial would give Hamas a fresh rallying cry at a time when the group is divided and losing popularity. One Hamas official said Abu Marzook’s decision Wednesday to drop his fight against extradition was coordinated with Hamas leaders.
A high-profile terror trial comes at a bad time for supporters of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which had just gotten back on track with the troop pullback from Hebron this month. There was concern that Hamas attacks could destroy delicate U.S.-brokered peace efforts.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could see his recent efforts of coopting Hamas undercut if an Abu Marzook trial sends thousands of Palestinians into the streets in anti-Israeli protests. Arafat has requested that Abu Marzook not be extradited to Israel, his spokesman said Thursday.
A Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip warned that Abu Marzook’s extradition could lead to new violence.
``If he is extradited, it will blow up the stability of the region,″ Mahmoud Zahar said Thursday. ``(It) will rally people around the movement.″
Hamas has demonstrated its threats are not idle. When the group’s chief bomb maker was assassinated a year ago in an operation widely attributed to Israel, Hamas set off four suicide bombs in Israel that killed 63 people and contributed to the election defeat of Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
Abu Marzook, a 46-year-old Palestinian, has lived in Virginia since the early 1980s. He was arrested in mid-1995 when he re-entered the United States after a trip abroad, and immigration inspectors noted that he had been put on a list of suspected terrorists.
U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Duffy ruled in May that there was cause to believe Abu Marzook was involved in 10 attacks from 1990 to 1994 in which 47 people were killed and 148 injured.
Abu Marzook says he belonged to Hamas’ political wing and was not involved in terror attacks.
He fought Israel’s extradition request in U.S. courts, but earlier this month changed his mind and dropped his opposition.
Israeli anti-terror experts said that despite risks for the peace process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government would have to try Abu Marzook, in line with Israel’s longstanding policy of going after suspected terrorists.
``No one wants him ... but there is no other way,″ military commentator Zeev Schiff. ``This is part of the war against terrorism.″
Ariel Merari, an anti-terrorism expert at Tel Aviv University, said a trial might not necessarily lead to a conviction.
``My understanding is that the material on Abu Marzook’s direct involvement in terrorist attacks is rather slim,″ Merari said.
``Yet, Abu Marzook undoubtedly has had a very prominent role ... in the direction of Hamas’ violent activity. He has been the chief strategist of Hamas,″ Merari added.