The United States at War with Hamas and Hezbollah
by Daniel Pipes
Almost without public notice, the two sides have declared war on each other. President George W. Bush stated in June 2003 that "the free world, those who love freedom and peace, must deal harshly with Hamas" and that "Hamas must be dismantled." Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage announced in September 2002 that "Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al-Qaeda is actually the B-team. … They have a blood debt to us, which you spoke to; and we're not going to forget it and it's all in good time. … We're going to take them down one at a time."
These ambitious sentiments have been accompanied by a shift in resources. The Washington Post reported in May that the FBI, "Confident that its efforts to track the Al-Qaeda terrorist network in this country are beginning to pay off, … is devoting more resources to the two Middle Eastern groups, which command more widespread support in Arab and Muslim communities" in the United States. The Post article tells about a November 2002 ruling from a secretive three-judge appeals panel that authorized federal agents pursuing criminal prosecutions of terrorist suspects to exploit the previously inaccessible vast backlog of classified wiretaps and intelligence reports from foreign security agencies. This has led to "stepped-up investigations in at least two dozen U.S. cities." The first public result came in February 2003 with the indictment of Sami Al-Arian and seven others. Current investigations are focused on the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and several individuals, including Abdelhaleem Ashqar, Mohamad Hammoud, and Ali Nasrallah.
Today, Hezbollah gave its fullest retort to date, in an interview by its leader Hassan Nasrallah to the Times of London. Nasrallah overtly threatened American interests around the world if the U.S. government does attempt to eradicate Hezbollah. "In such a case Hezbollah has a right to defend its existence, its people and its country through any means and at any time and in any place." To back this up, he noted that "There are many people throughout the world who love Hezbollah, who like Hezbollah and who support Hezbollah," he said. "Some may not sit idly by when seeing a brutal aggression against Lebanon."
Comment: It appears that Hamas and Hezbollah are no longer just Israel's problem but increasingly America's as well. (July 28, 2003)
Aug. 6, 2003 update: Nasrallah went a step further on August 4, Ha'aretz reports today, exhorting a large audience to "adopt the Iraqis to our hearts so that they will be able to unify their choice: opposition in the form of a war of jihad." According to Zvi Bar'el who reported Nasrallah's statement, "This was the first time since the start of the war in Iraq that a Shi'ite religious leader of large and recognized religious organization called for a jihad against the American forces."
Aug. 23, 2003 update: The rhetoric has further heated up between Washington and Hamas. President Bush yesterday issued a statement noting that "By claiming responsibility for the despicable act of terror on August 19, HAMAS has reaffirmed that it is a terrorist organization" and taking further steps to restrict Hamas funding. Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas today responded by declaring that "President Bush has become Islam's biggest enemy."
Sep. 24, 2003 update: In a further rhetorical escalation, the leader of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin, characterized President Bush's speech on Sept. 23 to the United Nations as a declaration of "war on Islam." Indeed, he states, "Bush views Islam as terrorism." Yassin then goes on to bluster: "Bush must understand that religious people do not fear threats. Islam is stronger than Bush's regime, stronger than Bush and stronger than his state and Islam will win." Yassin predicts Bush "will be defeated, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine and in all the Muslim lands."
Nov. 21, 2003 update: "Hatred of the United States does not cease to grow," proclaimed Nasrallah today, as quoted in an Agence France-Presse dispatch. He blamed terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iraq on the United States and blamed it as the prime cause of instability in the region.
Dec. 8, 2003 update: Israeli authorities today announced the arrest on Nov. 1 of Jamal Akkal, 23, a Canadian immigrant of Palestinian origins. According to a government statement, he "arrived in the Gaza Strip just over one month ago, ostensibly on a family visit. During his investigation, it arose that during his visit, he was trained by Hamas in order to assassinate a senior Israeli official visiting the US and to attack members of the US and Canadian Jewish communities."
March 24, 2004 update: In the aftermath of Israel's execution of Ahmad Yassin on March 22, Hamas has stepped up its threats against the United States, issuing a statement with this phrase: "The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without the consent of the terrorist American administration, and it must bear responsibility for this crime." A few hours later, however, Hamas pulled back a bit from these threats, with its new Gaza leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi stating: "We are inside Palestinian land and acting only inside Palestinian land. We are resisting the occupation, nothing else. Our resistance will continue just inside our border here inside our country." Sayed Seyam echoed this retreat: "It's not in our policy to target Americans or American interests."
Comment: Until now, most Americans have not understood that Hamas is their enemy. Will this change now? I am skeptical.
March 28, 2004 update: After pulling back from the threats against the United States, Rantisi restated them, this time in a much more forceful, indeed un-retractable, way:
Bush is the enemy of God, the enemy of Islam and Muslims. America declared war against God. Sharon declared war against God and God declared war against America, Bush and Sharon. The war of God continues against them and I can see the victory coming up from the land of Palestine by the hand of Hamas.
March 29, 2004 update: How does the State Department spokesman respond to the above threats? Well, when asked today to comment on the fact that "Mr. Rantisi seems to be coming out with vitriol against both Israel and the United States," Richard Boucher offered this reply:
Blah, blah, blah. Now, I am not asking Richard Boucher to reply in like kind to Rantisi's fire-and-brimstone threats. But it sure would be nice if he could at least echo the president's comments (see above) about the need to "deal harshly with Hamas" and the imperative that Hamas "be dismantled." Or he could take a cue from his own deputy secretary and talk about not forgetting the Hamas "blood debt" to the United States and the urgency to "take them down."
Instead, what we have here is a classic instance of "more mush from the wimp." C'mon, State Department, crank up the rhetoric.
April 9, 2004 update: Ahmad Rashad, identified as a research associate at the United Association for Studies and Research, which in turn is understood to be a leading Hamas front in the United States, has written an article, "Martyr in a Wheelchair? The Life & Death of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin," in which he makes such statements as:
This is not precisely a threat against the United States, but that "attack on foreign soil" could certainly take place in the United States.
April 19, 2004 update: In the aftermath of losing two of its chieftains in a month, Hamas has resumed and extended its anti-American vitriol. Reuters quotes Khaled Meshaal today calling for Arab and Muslims to defeat the United States and Israel: Our battle is with two parties, he told a crowd near Damascus, the United States and Israel. "We will not be victorious unless the other side of the battle is Arab and Muslim. All of the Arabs and Muslims." Meshaal called on leaders of Arab and Muslim states to "make an alliance, even a temporary one ... to combine capabilities against the enemy." And he concluded on this optimistic note: were the entire umma (Muslim peoples) to fight as well as the Palestinians and Iraqis "in Rafah, Jenin and Falluja, then by God we will defeat both the United States and Israel."
April 24, 2004 update: The circumstances behind the attack by a Palestinian from Jordan on three American corrections officers at a prison in Kosovo on April 17 are not entirely clear, but authorities are looking into Ahmed Mustafa Ibrahim Ali's possible ties to Hamas, on whose behalf he may have acted. An Associated Press description of the shootout tells how Ali was smiling during his killing spree and how, when he had shot all those he could see, he searched for more to kill. If the Hamas connection does materialize, it could mean that the organization has in fact begun in earnest its war with the United States.
April 29, 2004 update: Eli Lake of the New York Sun has an important article today establishing Hamas's capabilities to engage in violence within the United States. In early 2002, he writes,
Ken Piernick, who until his retirement a few months ago headed the unit inside the FBI's counterterrorism bureau that handles Hamas and Hezbollah told the Sun:
Piernick went on to say that the Hamas and Hezbollah logistical cells used to raise money and send materiel to Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank (such as the Charlotte, N.C. one I analyzed in 2000) could be quickly turned into operational terrorist cells.
Dennis Lormel, who until recently headed the FBI's financial crimes division within the counterterrorism bureau, seconded this view: "At a minimum there are fundraising cells under investigation, but they have the potential of being operational." And other American officials indicate that Hezbollah can smuggle people into the country. "We know they are in the tri-border region of South America and in Venezuela. And we know how porous the border is between America and Mexico. How hard is it to get an operative inside the states? I think they could do it in a week."
May 29, 2004 update: Americans may worry about Hezbollah capabilities in the United States, but Hezbollah worries no less about U.S. capabilities in Lebanon. Here is its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, quoted by the Associated Press, explaining yesterday's rioting over gasoline prices in an outlying region of Beirut that led to confrontations with the army and six deaths: "Groups directed by people linked to the American Embassy in Beirut spread the trouble and confrontations from one neighborhood in [Beirut's] southern suburbs to another. We know names and we saw them on the ground. These people have an old and renewed relationship with the American Embassy and I am sure of this."
July 12, 2004 update: According to a senior government terrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity, Hamas is merging with elements of Osama bin Laden's "all inclusive military arm" and the two together "will carry out military strikes" against the United States. The two have differences in outlook but they cooperate tactically under the banner, "International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders." The anonymous source noted that "They have operations planned for here, they have the capabilities to strike at will and when the time is right they will do it."
July 28, 2004 update: Here's a new angle: Mufid Abdulqader – a city of Dallas engineer, an accused top fundraiser for the Holy Land Foundation, and one of the seven Middle Eastern men recently rounded up in the Dallas, Texas, area on charges of funding Hamas – is the half-brother (they share the same father) of Khaled Mishaal, Hamas' political bureau chief and U.S. designated global terrorist. Accordingly, the police placed Abdulqader under especially close scrutiny. "The relationship did concern us," one source told the local CBS television affiliate. "I'd say it has been a concern all along." That said, there is no evidence so far that Abdulqader had used his city job for terrorist purposes. This link raises a whole set of possibilities for Hamas violence in the United States (on which, see the April 29, 2004 update).
Aug. 25, 2004 update: Efforts by Ismail Selim Elbarasse of Annandale, Va., to videotape details of Maryland's Bay Bridge landed him in jail and "set off alarms among U.S. counterterrorism investigators," the Baltimore Sun reports, who are treating the incident as a Hamas reconnaissance of the bridge and "as a potential link between Hamas and al-Qaida." In court papers, authorities alleged that the images his wife shot while crossing the bridge included close-ups of cables and support features "integral to the structural integrity of the bridge." To which his wife responded, that she was "taping scenery" and asked, "Is it a crime to videotape a bridge?" To which Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney of the Maryland Transportation Authority, the bridge operator, replied that "It was the nature of the videotape itself that got everyone's attention. This went beyond the normal tourist video. They didn't seem to be focusing on what people normally focus on there, the water, the skyline, the facilities on the shore. They were focused on the bridge itself."
Elbarasse, who is being detained as a material witness, has a long history of involvement with Hamas in the United States.
In response to the videotaping and arrest, Ghazi Hamad, identified as the editor of a pro-Hamas newspaper in Gaza, insists that Hamas has no desire to pick a fight with America. "They don't want to create fronts all over the world. Despite the role of the United States, we focus our struggle inside the Palestinian territories, not outside" – an obvious bit of disinformation given the information in this entry. Boaz Ganor, executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, in Herzliya, notes that "Hamas formally does not engage, and does not intend to engage, in a terrorist attack on American soil. But I think it is not inconceivable that Hamas would change its strategies, and they would like to be ready for that option."
Aug. 26, 2004 update: Matthew Levitt raises the important question today, does indicting Hamas and disrupting its operations, make the United States a target? (This is actually the flip side of my weblog entry, "Does a "Covenant of Security" Protect the United Kingdom?") He then replies by noting FBI testimony to Congress in February 2002, that Hamas activity in the United States was mostly limited to fundraising and that carrying out this activity served "a disincentive for operational terrorist activity in the United States." He goes on to point out that the recent string of indictments, such as those in Dallas and Chicago, effectively remove this disincentive, forcing U.S. authorities "to consider the possibility that Hamas and other groups may eventually plot attacks aimed at targets on U.S. soil." He concludes that although Hamas may well target the U.S. homeland, "there is no hope of preventing future Hamas attacks—be they in Israel or North America—without cracking down on the group's international support network. If the U.S. government proves in court what it alleges in these recent indictments, it will go a long way toward fulfilling this goal." In short, Levitt does not really reply to the question he raises but clearly votes no to the Londonistan strategy of appeasing Islamist terrorists in the hopes they will take their business elsewhere.
Sept. 17, 2004 update: Senator Bob Graham (Democrat of Florida) castigates the Bush administration for failing to prevent Hezbollah infiltration of the United States. The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told the Forward that Hezbollah has at least several hundred trained operatives in America, or more than Al Qaeda does. (The precise estimate is classified.) "Frankly, we don't really have a strategy to prevent trained operatives from entering the U.S."
Sept. 21, 2004 update: According to Geostrategy-Direct, Hamas has expanded its enemies list and has "joined the Islamic war against Russia." The article points out how, over the past six months, "Hamas has stressed the importance of the Chechen revolt in its recruitment campaigns" and that Russian intelligence believes it is recruiting for operations in Russia. Along similar lines, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (in Israel) has made public and explained a Hamas poster titled "Chechnya, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Kashmir, Palestine and Lebanon," with pictures of Islamist terror leaders from all those locales (worth a look). These developments mark further escalations in Hamas' global ambitions.
Sept. 22, 2004 update: If it needs a more formal statement of war, Hamas supplied it today with a press release titled, "Hamas Considers the U.S. Administration a Partner in the Aggression against the Palestinian People."
Sept. 24, 2004 update: Erick Stakelbeck of the Investigative Project shows in "Hamas in America" that the United States "is anything but safe" from Hamas, documents this danger, and concludes that "The question may no longer be if Hamas will attack America, but when."
Oct. 6, 2004 update: It's formal: Hamas declared war today on the United States of America. In a press release titled "Hamas Considers the American Administration a Partner in the Aggression on the Palestinian People," it announced (as translated by Israel's Institute for Counter-Terrorism) that
Nov. 24, 2004 update: An Israeli military court today sentenced Jamal Akkal (on him: see the Dec. 8, 2003, above) to a miniscule four years in jail and a 2,000-shekel fine after he pleaded guilty of planning to kill Israeli officials traveling in the United States as well as leaders of the American and Canadian Jewish communities. The specific charges were conspiracy to commit manslaughter and receiving paramilitary training. The indictment stated that Akkal was sent to Detroit to buy an M-16 rifle and bomb materials with which to carry out attacks in cities where many Jews live. [Aug. 30, 2007 update: Akkal has finished his time in Israeli jail and is about to return to Canada.]
Dec. 21, 2004 update: On Dec. 17, the U.S. government followed the lead of its French counterpart (yes, believe it or not), and placed Al-Manar, the Hizbullah television station, on the Terrorist Exclusion List, thereby banning its transmission in the United States. Al-Manar naturally objects to this designation, and states that its being banned represents an attempt "to terrorize and silence thoughts that are not in line with U.S. and Israeli policies." For good measure, Osama Siblani of the Arab American News in Dearborn, Michigan, stated his disagreement with the decision that Al-Manar incites violence. "By that standard, they should shut Fox News for inciting violence against Muslims."
Dec. 23, 2004 update: Al-Ahram reports that Hizbullah is thinking of retaliation, but of the legal kind. Ibrahim Mussawi, its head of political programs says, "We are studying the possibility of filing a suit in the U.S. against the U.S. State Department."
Feb. 16, 2005 update: Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, dwealt at some length on Hamas and Hizbullah, confirming known points about their threat, in testimony today before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
Feb. 19, 2005 update: The Middle East Media Research Institute has transcribed two speeches by the Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah as broadcast by Al-Manar television on February 18 and 19:
The crowd then responded "Death to America" six times before Nasrallah resumed his speech, dilating on the beauties of shihada (martyrdom).
March 24, 2005 update: Reuters carries striking pictures of Hamas burning Israeli and American flags at a rally today in Jenin, on the West Bank. Here are three of them.
May 3, 2005 update: I pulled together today the Hamas side of this weblog entry and published it as "Hamas vs. America."
May 20, 2005 update: The Washington Times has an excellent editorial today reviewing the threat of Hezbollah in the United States. It starts by noting that, overall, it is the terrorist group that has killed the second largest number of Americans, then goes on to note that the group is active in the United States, with cells in at least 10 cities. The editorial reviews their main purposes: to raise money, smuggle arms, and conduct surveillance, with a possible eye toward launching attacks on U.S. targets. Then it tells about the little-noticed arrest in April near Detroit of businessman Nemr Ali Rahal, 41, at his Dearborn home on charges of smuggling funds to Hezbollah. But the story deserves our attention.
Nor is that all: Mahmoud Kourani of Dearborn, Michigan, pleaded guilty in March to providing material support for Hezbollah and will be sentenced next month. "Kourani (whose brother is Hezbollah's chief of military security in southern Lebanon) is an illegal alien who sneaked into the United States from Mexico in February 2001."
The editorial concludes that
Aug. 24, 2005 update: This entry has dealt exclusively with Hamas and Hezbollah; but now Palestinian Islamic Jihad enters the picture too. During testimony yesterday in the trial of Sami Al-Arian, on trial for his role in fundraising and directing PIJ, his attorney, William Moffitt, asked FBI Agent Kerry Myers whether PIJ had ever committed a terrorist attack outside Israel or the territories. No, Myers replied, but its leaders three times threatened to attack the United States. Moffitt challenged Myers about the substance of those threats, to which Myers answered. "I can tell you there was a plot to commit terrorist acts in the United States. It was interdicted, I believe."
June 22, 2006 update: Palestinian Media Watch has posted a video in which a Hamas operative tells about subjugating the United States, Italy, and Great Britain, not to speak of Israel. Here is a translation of the key passage:
July 18, 2006 update: Not surprisingly, as the U.S. government endorses Israeli efforts to destroy Hizbullah, Hizbullah is suspected of wanting to retaliate with terrorism. Caroline Drees of Reuters writes for Reuters that the FBI "is trying to ferret out possible Hizbollah agents in the United States amid concerns that rising U.S.-Iranian tensions could trigger attacks on American soil." She provides three quotes:
July 19, 2006 update: For a quick reference guide to major Hizballah and Hizballah-linked illegal activity in North America, see "Hizballah Activity in North America," prepared by Brian Hecht (of The Investigative Project on Terrorism). It breaks down the activities into five main categories and a catch-all "other":
July 21, 2006 update: "There is no doubt that Hezbollah has the infrastructure and the capability to strike in the U.S. if it decides to pursue that option," Steven Emerson is quoted as saying. Wayne White, formerly a State Department Middle East intelligence analyst, warns that "if Hezbollah is badly damaged or otherwise hindered in its ability to operate within Lebanon against Israel, it will place much more emphasis on finding ways of operating elsewhere against Israeli, Jewish and, perhaps, U.S. interests."
July 30, 2006 update: Jeff Jacoby summarizes U.S. problems with Hizbullah today in "Hezbollah Is Our Enemy, Too," providing quotes and actions to back up the assertion. He concludes thus: "Not our war? Listen again to the Hezbollah hordes: ‘Death to America! Death to America!' They're serious about it—deadly serious. Why aren't we?"
Oct. 13, 2006 update: According to Time's Tim McGirk (with reporting by Jamil Hamad in Bethlehem and Aaron J. Klein in Tel Aviv), there's a major debate within Hamas about attacking U.S. targets in the Middle East.
Nov. 12, 2006 update: Four Islamist Palestinian groups – none of them explicitly Hamas, but presumably including it in the background – issued a joint statement calling on "any Muslim or Palestinian around the world … mercilessly to strike American targets due to U.S. support of Israel's crimes and massacres, the last of which occurred in Beit Hanoun." The Popular Resistance Committees, Al-Aqsa Brigades, Abu Rish Brigades, and Tawahid Brigades asserted that a U.S. veto in the Security Council concerning Beit Hanoun "renders America a legitimate target just as Israel is." It also states that American troops supervised and took part in the IDF's action in Beit Hanoun.
For this reason, the statement threatens, "all Americans, regardless of status or position, will be targeted." Mahmoud Abd-el Aal of the Popular Resistance Committees added that the organizations will hunt Americans everywhere: "The Americans will learn that our arm is very long. We will return their sons in coffins."
Comment: It's hard to imagine a broader, more sweeping declaration of war.
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