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Out There News

Muslim militants use US as safe haven

By Paul Eedle 

CAIRO, March 5, Reuter - Moslem militants, suspected of links to a bomb attack on the New York World Trade Centre, look to the United States as a haven from police forces and intelligence agencies in the Middle East. 

The Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad are banned and hunted down as terrorist organisations by Israel while in Egypt, security forces are fighting to crush el-Gama'a el-Islamiya (Islamic Group) after months of attacks on foreign tourists. But all three groups appear to have connections in the United States, where political freedoms allow supporters to publish literature and collect money far more easily than in the Middle East. 

The Moslem magazine Inquiry, published in Tampa, Florida, by a group called the Islamic Committee for Palestine, carries fund-raising advertisements for a wide range of charities serving the Israeli-occupied territories, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. While there is no suggestion that any of these charities are collecting money for groups involved in political violence, the advertisements indicate the existence of a pool of people in the United States sympathetic to the causes at present most important to Moslem radicals. 

A copy of the English-language magazine was given to Reuters by representatives of Islamic Jihad in Palestine, an avowedly Iranian-backed group which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Israelis. When a reporter in Damascus in January tried to track down one of the exiled leaders of Hamas, the biggest Moslem militant group in the Israeli-occupied territories, Palestinian militant sources said he was abroad -- in New Jersey. 

This could not be independently confirmed. But a week later, Israel arrested two Arab-Americans whom it accused of coming to the Jewish state to rebuild Hamas after the government expelled 415 alleged Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters to Lebanon. Israel's Government Press Office released a chart showing the United States as the seat of the Hamas leadership. The Israelis have since played down the case but the two men are still being held. 

Hamas supporters are at present freer to travel to the United States than supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), with which many Western governments have open dealings. But a bill was introduced to Congress on Thursday to deny visas to Hamas supporters if it is believed they are engaged in terrorism or raising money for their group. 

The most famous Middle Eastern fundamentalist in the United States is Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind Egyptian preacher who was accused but acquitted of involvement in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Sheikh Omar is the spiritual leader of el-Gama'a el-Islamiya, which is fighting to overthrow the Egyptian government and establish a purist Islamic state. 

Sheikh Omar, who fled from Egypt through Sudan to the United States in 1990, is the focal point for a large group of young Arab-American and Arab fundamentalists in the New York area. New Jersey police sources say Mohammed Salameh, charged on Thursday with involvement in the Trade Centre bombing, prayed at the Jersey City mosque where Sheikh Omar preaches. Another man who attended the mosque in the past, El Sayyid Nosair, was tried and acquitted of the 1990 murder of radical Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990 but then sentenced to 22 years in jail on weapons charges. Sheikh Omar on Friday denounced the Trade Centre bomb, which killed five people and injured more than one thousand. 

REUTER NEWS SERVICE