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Hamas Leader Denies Terror Accusations

A senior official of the Palestinian militant group Hamas (search) indicted in the United States for conspiring to fund terror attacks against Israel denied the accusations and said the charges were driven by election-year politics in the United States.

"This is election campaigning," Mousa Abu Marzook (search), deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, told The Associated Press in Damascus on Friday. "They (U.S. officials) want to say to the American public that they are succeeding in fighting terrorism.

"Every week they come up with a new case before the American public, but these (the cases) are drawn from files that are tens of years old," he said.

Speaking by telephone from Damascus, where he has been living for several years, Abu Marzook said he had "nothing to do with" the accusations.

In Washington on Friday, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) announced that Abu Marzook, Abdelhaleem Hasan Abdelraziq Ashqar, who lives in Alexandria, Va., and Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah of Chicago, were indicted for their roles in 15-year racketeering conspiracy in the United States and abroad.

Ashcroft said the three men "allegedly ran a U.S.-based terrorists and financing cell" associated with Hamas and played "a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism."

Salah and Ashqar were arrested Thursday night, while Abu Marzook lives in Syria "as a fugitive," according to Ashcroft.

Abu Marzook, an American-educated industrial engineer who lived in the United States for 15 years, was detained by U.S. authorities in 1995 on suspicion of involvement in terrorism, before being expelled to Jordan and later sent to Syria.

Abu Marzook said both Ashqar and Salah were arrested in the past in the United States and released.

The Abu Marzook indictment raised concern the move may be aimed at putting pressure on Syria and possibly lead to the imposition of sanctions against the country.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Damascus under the so-called Syria Accountability Act, which also calls on Damascus to withdraw more than 20,000 troops and security personnel from Lebanon.

The act, which was passed late last year, accuses Damascus of hosting militant Palestinian groups and seeking biological and chemical weapons, while saying Syria must stop militants and weapons from crossing its border into Iraq.

Syria denies pursuing weapons of mass destruction and says the long, porous border with Iraq makes it hard to stop infiltrators. It adds that its troops, which were deployed in Lebanon during that country's 1975-1990 civil war, are there at Lebanon's request.