US gov't expert tells terrorism trial of Mideast violence

Says suicide bombings are designed "to undermine Israel's sense of public security."

October 25, 2006 06:00
2 minute read.
US gov't expert tells terrorism trial of Mideast violence

terror attack 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

A terrorism expert told a federal court jury that suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis but a defense attorney said five times as many Palestinians have died amid the violent conflict. The testimony Tuesday came at the trial of suburban Chicago grocer Muhammad Salah, 53, and former university professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, charged in a federal racketeering indictment with bankrolling Hamas terrorists. Suicide bombings are designed "to undermine Israel's sense of public security," US Treasury Department terrorism expert Matthew Levitt said. "It sends a message that you really aren't safe anywhere in the country," he said. The trial, now in its second week, is expected to last at least three months and is aimed at what federal officials have described as a US-based cell devoted to furnishing funds and recruits to Hamas. Another defendant, Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political wing, also is charged in the indictment but currently lives in Syria. Levitt described a long list of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts that have struck in a nightclub, a hotel, aboard buses, in shopping malls and elsewhere, killing Israelis and visiting tourists. But Salah attorney Michael E. Deutsch said Palestinians have been victimized by the Israeli army far more than Israelis by Hamas. Hamas is dedicated to toppling the Israeli government and replacing it with a Palestinian state. Since January, Hamas has controlled the government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "Are you aware that 1,400 Israelis have been killed while 5,000 Palestinians have been killed?" Deutsch asked. Levitt said he did not know the exact numbers of those killed on both sides. It was Levitt's second day on the witness stand. He testified that the political leaders of Hamas often identify themselves with suicide bombers. To drive home the point, lead prosecutor Joseph M. Ferguson projected a poster on a large screen showing a Palestinian spokesman and a suicide bomber and a Hamas magazine article showing Marzook and a bomb maker. Salah and Ashqar, of Alexandria, Virginia, say they are not terrorists but were just trying to help Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation. Deutsch sought to discredit Levitt, suggesting that he is biased in favor of Israel. He noted that Levitt had lived in Israel and once worked for a Washington think tank whose board included members of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee _ often described as "the Israel lobby." Prompted by Deutsch, Levitt also acknowledged that he had testified at a number of other terrorism trials on behalf of the government and been paid thousands of dollars at a fee of $200 an hour.

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