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Israel No Longer Wants U.S. To Extradite Hamas Leader

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post

Israel gave up its bid for extradition of a senior Hamas leader from the United States Thursday, citing the same concerns over "security and the prevention of terrorist attacks" that inspired the initial request nearly two years ago.

The Israeli decision to drop a longstanding request for custody of the Hamas figure, Mousa Abu Marzook, left his fate in the hands of the Clinton administration. Expulsion seemed possible - and Abu Marzook predicted he will be sent to Jordan - but Attorney General Janet Reno said in Washington that Marzook will remain in a U.S. jail for the time being and "we are reviewing all our options."

With Israeli-Palestinian talks unraveling and daily clashes suggesting a return to something like the Palestinian uprising of 1987-93, Israel's army and secret-service chiefs had warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 that Abu Marzook's arrival could touch off a major escalation of violence in the deteriorating political climate.

"There is no doubt that Abu Marzook deserves to spend many years in jail until the end of his life," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai told reporters in Washington. "On the other hand we are aware of the dangers and the significance of the project called Abu Marzook."

Israel's hand on the extradition request was forced by an American legal deadline. Abu Marzook, held by U.S. authorities since his arrest at New York's Kennedy airport in July 1995, set a 60-day clock in motion by abandoning his objection to extradition earlier this year. Netanyahu and the Clinton administration raced the deadline - next Monday - to find a face-saving retreat.

According to Russ Bergeron, spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Abu Marzook, who had lived for several years in Falls Church, Va., was taken into custody as an "excludable alien" even though he is a legal permanent resident of the United States with a green card. He was charged with excludability under a statute that applies to any "alien who has engaged in a terrorist activity" or is considered likely by U.S. authorities to do so after entering the United States.

He was turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service when Israel requested his extradition and now will be remanded to INS custody so exclusion proceedings against him can resume, Bergeron said. Where he is sent will be up to an immigration judge. It could be the last country he left on his way to the United States, his country of birth, his country of nationality, or any country willing to accept him.

In an interview with Reuter news agency, Abu Marzook said he believes the United States, Israel and Jordan have struck a deal for his expulsion to Jordan - the country that forced him to leave in 1995 at Israel's request. The Jordanian prime minister, Abdel Salam Majali, said in Washington that if the Clinton administration asks Jordan to accept Abu Marzook, "Jordan will look into it and and try to help."

Part of Israel's reluctance to try him, officials said, stemmed from anxiety that it could not establish its charges.

Israel submitted more than 900 pages of legal briefs in support of its extradition request, and U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy found probable cause to try Abu Marzook on charges that he helped plan and finance 10 attacks that killed 47 people and wounded 148. Many accused terrorists in Israel are tried in closed military proceedings under laws that do not require the government to provide defendants with access to the witnesses or the evidence against them. Many others are held without charge in renewable six-month periods of "administrative detention."

Irit Kahan, director of the Israeli Justice Ministry's international department, said in a brief interview Thursday that neither legal route was available in Abu Marzook's case.

Hamas political figures reached Thursday congratulated Israel on its choice and continued to imply that Abu Marzook's interrogation and trial would have resulted in further bloodshed.

"Israel could not have known what would be the reaction, either from the Palestinian people or from other Arabs and Muslims," said Ibrahim Ghosheh, the Amman-based spokesman for Hamas. "The case of Dr. Abu Marzook is a famous case. Everyone is following him, everyone is admiring him, and the Israelis took this into account."