Israeli agents may testify in US Hamas trial

Judge asked to bar public from courtroom; agents may wear disguises.

Prosecutors asked a federal judge to bar the public, including the news media, from the court if Israeli security agents agree to testify at a hearing in the case of a man accused of being a fundraiser for the Palestinian terror group Hamas. Prosecutors also on Thursday asked US District Judge Amy St. Eve to allow any members of the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet)who testify to do so under aliases and wearing disguises to protect them from possible reprisals by the terrorist group. The hearing is scheduled for March 6 in the case of Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah, who served nearly five years in an Israeli prison after he was arrested there in 1993 and later pleaded guilty to helping to funnel $650,000 to Hamas. Salah, 51, of the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, now says he was tortured into pleading guilty. He is charged with taking part in a 15-year racketeering conspiracy to launder money and pay for Hamas terrorist attacks that have taken place in Israel. Also charged in the case are Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, 46, of Alexandria, Virginia, and Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, who now lives in Syria. Salah and Ashqar have pleaded not guilty. Marzook is classified as a fugitive. Salah's attorney, Michael Deutsch of Chicago, is asking the court to bar the government from calling the Israeli security agents to the witness stand at Salah's trial on grounds that they tortured him to obtain statements the US government hopes to use as evidence. That will be the issue at the March 6 suppression hearing. Deutsch did not immediately return a message seeking comment left at his office Thursday night. A spokesman for the US attorney's office, Randall Samborn, declined to comment. Prosecutors said in a 25-page brief filed Thursday that the courtroom could be closed to the public under the federal Classified Information Procedures Act. Prosecutors said they were acting "to ensure the safety of certain ISA agents." They requested "that an order be entered protecting their true names and identities which are classified and permitting them to testify at the suppression hearing under their official alias and, as they may deem necessary and at their discretion, in light disguise." Prosecutors said there was no assurance that Israeli agents would be willing to testify. "However, the government believes that Israel will provide certain ISA witnesses if safeguards are put in place to obviate the risk that sensitive, classified information will be disclosed to the public and the agents' identities will become publicly known," prosecutors said.