As the result of an extensive, decade-long federal investigation, former U.S. resident Musa Abu Marzook, also the acknowledged “political bureau” chief of the Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization since 1991, has been indicted along with several other Palestinian Americans for repeated and deliberate violations of U.S. export regulations and the material-support provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). While living as a U.S. resident during the mid-1990s, Abu Marzook also had a series of disturbing connections through family and personal associates to a known al Qaeda activist living in the U.S. named Ziyad Helmi Khaleel.
Musa Abu Marzook is a charismatic Islamist leader who has actively championed the jihad in Palestine. A day after a suicidal Hamas shooting attack in Jerusalem in 1994, Marzook told an interviewer, “Death is the goal to every Muslim and every fighter wants to die on Palestinian land. This is not the first time that the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassem heroes carr[ied] out suicide and terrorism actions.” Moreover, captured Hamas operatives who were allegedly dispatched by Marzook from inside the United States have told Israeli interrogators that Marzook was intimately involved in financing and ordering actual Hamas terrorist operations.
At the same time, Marzook also played an integral role in local Muslim communities across America where he resided, including in Colorado, Northern Virginia, Texas, and Louisiana. In a suburb of Dallas, Marzook helped found the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a Texas-based evangelical charity group that, last December, was named by the U.S. government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity (SDGT) for providing critical financial support to Hamas. Musa also expanded his own personal roots here in America. For a time, Marzook set up shop in unimposing Ruston, Louisiana with his personal secretary and his family. Even his nephew Ahmed came to the United States, and stayed with his uncle every summer in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C.
Ahmed Abu Marzook is the founder and president of Palestinian Internet Services (P-I-S.com), a prominent local Internet provider located in Gaza. P-I-S.com is responsible for hosting both the websites for the Gaza office of the now-banned Holy Land Foundation and HLF’s special hospital in Gaza, Dar al-Islam. The enterprising Ahmed Abu Marzook has also spent extensive time in other parts of the U.S., including in Detroit, Michigan, where he incorporated “A&A Intercontinental” at 3167 Hanley Street. Unsurprisingly, the same Hanley Street address has also been linked in public records to Ziyad Khaleel, a U.S. citizen and the webmaster of the official Hamas Internet site.
At the time, Khaleel was a roving jack-of-all-trades in the American underground militant Islamic community. His name and Detroit address both appeared prominently in ledgers taken from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in 1994, a critical international financial and strategic arm of al Qaeda. While in Orlando, Florida, Khaleel served as the regional director for the Columbia, Missouri-based Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA), an Islamic charity that had a multimillion-dollar USAID contract cancelled after the U.S. State Department determined that it was not in America’s “national-security interests.” In Columbia itself, Khaleel operated a remote-branch office on behalf of radical Saudi dissidents based in London who were closely aligned with Osama bin Laden. He even added a digitized copy of an infamous al Qaeda propaganda video titled “The Martyrs of Bosnia” to his own short-lived Internet website, salam.net.
But Ziyad Khaleel never forgot his Palestinian heritage. While he used his technical abilities to register websites on behalf of a host of militant Islamic groups in North Africa and the Middle East, he simultaneously rededicated himself to spreading word of the Palestinian cause. He enthusiastically lectured to Muslim student groups at the University of Missouri on behalf of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization based primarily in Dallas and Chicago and cofounded by Musa Abu Marzook. In a recent federal-court decision, a judge concluded that IAP has “distribute[d] information on behalf of Hamas” and, in a variety of other ways, “has acted in support of Hamas.” While in Detroit, Khaleel collected advertising money for an IAP publication and shared common residential addresses in Detroit with both Ahmed Abu Marzook and, separately, another Palestinian associate of Uncle Musa: Mohammed Abu Dayyeh. And, of course, Khaleel happily administered the Hamas Internet domain for Marzook and his assorted henchmen.
In the mid-to-late 90s, Ziyad Khaleel finally ran afoul of federal authorities in the United States for taking his orders not from Musa Abu Marzook, but rather from the top advisors of Saudi exile Osama bin Laden. In November 1996, senior al Qaeda lieutenant Khaled al-Fawwaz instructed Ziyad Khaleel to purchase a $7,500 satellite telephone for personal use by bin Laden. Between 1996 and 1998, Khaleel replenished the phone with more than 2,000 minutes of telephone air time, also at the behest of Fawwaz. Bin Laden’s bustling branch office in Columbia, managed by Khaleel and disguised as a low-income housing project, started attracting far too much attention. The FBI secretly raided the nondescript office and collected extensive intelligence information.
Khaleel’s role in knowingly aiding bin Laden was subsequently revealed in detail by prosecutors during the 2001 trial of al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings. However, Khaleel was never indicted for his role in the conspiracy, even though bin Laden used the satellite telephone to communicate the very orders to carry out the attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. Nevertheless, according to Newsweek, on the eve of the millennium, Khaleel was abruptly seized by Jordanian intelligence officials and the FBI as he arrived in Amman. Evidently, investigators had sought to question him in regards to the shocking failed millennium terror plots attributed to the al Qaeda network. Nevertheless, the Newsweek report indicated Khaleel was “cooperating” with the inquiry and would not be held.
Of course, the abrupt ending to this tale leaves many intriguing questions unanswered about the apparent links between prominent Hamas and al Qaeda activists living and working inside the United States. Is this proof that Hamas and al Qaeda have been openly collaborating with each other? It should be noted in this regard that several Hamas leaders have specifically renounced any ties to al Qaeda and have condemned the 9/11 terror attacks. However, like virtually any radical movement, Hamas is characterized by many factions, some more moderate and some more extreme. While the U.S. government has heretofore been reluctant to take decisive action against Hamas, perhaps the very real fear of fringe Palestinian militants aligning themselves with al Qaeda will finally encourage us to change that policy and “get tough” with all terrorists who have American blood on their hands, irrespective of their geographic or national identity.
— Evan Kohlmann is a senior terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington D.C.-based counterterrorism think tank established in 1995. He is currently writing a book, The Martyrs of Bosnia: Al-Qaida’s War of Terror in the Balkans.