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Militant Filmed Bridge, Officials Say

August 25, 2004|From Associated Press

BALTIMORE — A man described as a high-ranking operative of a militant Palestinian group was arrested after he drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge while his wife recorded close-up shots of the structure on video, authorities said Tuesday.

Ismael Selim Elbarasse, long suspected of having financial ties to Hamas, was taken into custody last week and held as a material witness in an unrelated terrorism case in Chicago.

Neither he nor his wife was charged with wrongdoing in connection with the taping.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the arrest "shouldn't be a generator of fear. It should serve as a reminder that there is a war going on around the world."

A federal grand jury in Chicago last week described Elbarasse as an unindicted co-conspirator in a 15-year scheme to finance terrorist activities in Israel. Hamas has carried out many suicide bombings and other attacks in the Jewish state.

Court documents allege that he and defendant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook -- considered one of the highest-ranking Hamas leaders internationally -- shared a Virginia bank account that was used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas.

Neither federal public defender Franklin W. Draper, who represented Elbarasse in court Monday, nor Elbarasse's private attorney, Stanley L. Cohen, returned calls seeking comment.

Police officers saw Elbarasse on Friday -- the same day the Chicago indictment was made public -- on the 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Authorities said Elbarasse was in a sport-utility vehicle with his wife and their three children, ages 14, 19 and 21. He allegedly said they had gone to the beach but could not specify which beach they had visited.

The FBI said the tape in the camera showed the cables and upper supports of the main section of the bridge and zoomed in on bridge joints. The tape also shows the family packing for a vacation and being on one.

Elbarasse was imprisoned for eight months in 1998 after failing to testify before a federal grand jury that was investigating Hamas fundraising.

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