Testimony in the trial of Chicago resident Muhammad Salah and Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar of Northern Virginia, continued yesterday. FBI Agents gave testimony focusing on items found in Ashqar's home during a search of his Oxford Mississippi residence on December 26, 1993, in addition to wiretaps of his phone and fax lines.
Special Agent Bradley Benabidez testified that the FBI acquired over 2400 hours of audio during the year that they maintained a wiretap. Benabidez further described the December 1993 search of Ashqar's home where a team of agents from the FBI photographed over 1600 documents.
A few of those documents which were discussed later in the day provide fascinating insight. One titled Policies and Rules of the Association, was a veritable manual on secrecy and concealment. Although the "Association" in question was not identified the phrases written within it, were clear. Instructions were given concerning the destruction of sensitive documents, using a cover for meetings including warning symbols to be implemented during meetings in case an attendee believes he is under surveillance. Attendees at a meeting are also to apply jamming devices during those meetings and unplug phone and fax lines. Concerning "Safety of Travel and Movement," a cover story must be developed in advance and materials provided to match that cover story, for instance, if one is pretending to be a tourist then tourist books should be in the person's possession.
Another document, titled Hamas Genesis and Commencement, dated 25 July 1991 was distributed by the political wing of Hamas. In this document Hamas described itself as an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood that "jumped from training and preparation in Palestine to the Jihad phase." Under the subcategory "Structure of the Hamas Movement," the leadership of the movement was described as being divided into offices that were located in 30 Arab, Islamic, and European states. According to the document, the Afghan Jihad created an opportunity to train Hamas mujahideen and provide them with operational experience in battle and that Afghan mujahideen who engaged in battle serve as human resources.
Telephone calls between Ashqar and al-Rantisi
The government played and read for the jury several phone calls between Defendant al-Ashqar and high level Hamas leaders including Abd al Aziz Rantisi, a co-founder and leader of Hamas. One shocking phone call between the two men occurred on the day of a Hamas attack on October 24, 1993. In this phone call, played for the jury over speakers with a translation provided to them on an overhead projector, Rantisi informed Ashqar of the attack asking him if he heard about it. When Ashqar replied that he had not, Rantisi told him that two soldiers and been kidnapped and killed. Rantisi then told Ashqar that they had even taken the ID Cards of the two soldiers and both men began laughing. The phone calls and faxes showed Ashqar to be a an important player who was close to many leaders in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Europe.
Cross examination by Muhammad Salah's lawyer
Defense Attorney Robert Bloom cross examined agent Benabidez who had also testified the day before. Bloom maintained that the Social Security application filled out by Ashqar which listed Salah's address in Bridgeview as Ashqar's address meant nothing because Salah commonly offered his home to Palestinians who came to the United States and did not have a place to stay.
Hamas communications and Ashqar's personal contacts
The Government's next witness was an FBI Special Agent tasked with preparing all of the wiretaps for this trial. She explained the fax coversheet which she added to each fax. The coversheet contained a date, time and if the fax was incoming or outgoing, and a "to/from" section. In the case of an incoming fax the "from" section was labeled unknown since the wiretap could not ascertain the fax's origin. The agent read an outgoing fax dated 10/7/1993 from Ashqar to Fax number 011-44-81-450-3246, a London number. This fax suggested that a conference take place on the anniversary of the Intifadah 12/9/93 and was signed Samir, a pseudonym for Ashqar.
Special Agent Jill Pettorelli was the next witness called on behalf of the government. Pettorelli read the translation of several of the documents which the FBI photographed during their search of Ashqar's residence. One document attributed to Hamas was a list of prisoners scheduled for exchange with the Israelis and subsequently to be sent abroad. The letter asked the recipient to ignore the previous list and adopt this new list. Of the 33 names on the list the first three were listed as follows:
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Life
Yahya al-Sinwar, Life
Salah Shehadah, 10 years
These three names represent three high-ranking HAMAS leaders in Israeli custody.
Another document read by Agent Pettorelli was a list of entries from Ashqar's address book which included Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy leader of the political wing of Hamas, Ahmed Yousef, former director of a Springfield, Virginia "think tank" founded by Marzook and current senior political advisor to Hamas, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, as well as co-Defendant Muhammad Salah.
Cross-posted at Counterterrorism Blog.