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Arrests Related to Alleged Hamas Fund-Raising

Aired December 18, 2002 - 11:01   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to begin this hour with a breaking story that we've been following. Here is an update for you, on the arrest of four people in Dallas on charges related to an alleged terror financing scheme.
Our Ed Lavandera joins with us now live from Dallas.

He's got more details on this.

Good morning, Ed.


Let's start off with just the latest information that we've been getting from law enforcement sources. The four people arrested this morning in Dallas are brothers. Their last name is Elashi, and the first names of the four is Ghassan, Bayan, Basman, Hazim. Elashi, of course, is the last name.

The FBI officials here in the Dallas area saying they will be able to release more information in the hours ahead. Of course as Daryn mentioned off the top of this hour, these four people allegedly arrested for having financial ties to the Islamic group Hamas, and of course this has been an interesting situation in Dallas here over the course of the last year.

Since September 11th, the FBI has been paying very close attention to several people and several organizations here in the north Texas area; in particular, one group called the Holy land Foundation, they've been monitoring this group. And the law enforcement sources here over the course of the last year have been saying that they're very interested in this group, that they're very convinced that what some of these groups have been doing is funneling money to the Hamas group, but they just haven't been able to prove it.

In fact, last year, one source telling me here in Dallas, that just keep watching, that something will eventually come up. Not exactly clear if there's any connection between these four arrests today and that group. We'll make that very clear at this point. But that is definitely something that has been very high on the radar here for FBI officials, so we'll continue to monitor that.

And of course, Leon, FBI officials here saying later on in the hours ahead, they'll be able to pass along more definitive information as to what exactly has been going on this morning.

HARRIS: Got you, Ed. But real quickly, has there been any hint at all as to what it might have been that tipped off the FBI in this particular instance, and what might have made them go ahead and make this move now. After all, as you said, they've been watching this organization for some time now.

LAVANDERA: It's hard to say at this point. We do know that, as we've reported over the course of the last several months, that the FBI has this list, this watchlist, if you will, of people throughout the country that they've been watching. The sources here, the FBI officials that we've talked to over the course of the last year have said there are definitely people on that list that they're paying very close attention to in the Texas area as well. But where they fall into that category and where they fall on that list isn't exactly clear for us at this point.

HARRIS: Got you. Thanks, Ed.

I know it's early, this story is just now breaking, but we appreciate that.

Ed Lavandera, we'll let you go and start digging some more on this story.

Ed Lavandera in Dallas -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Leon, we might be able to get some more insight on this. We have with us on the phone right now, Steve Pomerantz. He is a former FBI assistant director, and he's joining us on the phone from Annandale, Virginia.

Good morning. Thanks for joining us.

STEVE POMERANTZ, FMR. FBI ASST. DIR.: Good morning. Thank you.

KAGAN: Can you give us an idea of how the FBI worked to track down these type of suspects?

POMERANTZ: Yes, I think I can offer you a little bit of enlightenment. I think Ed got it pretty much correct. It's one thing, however, to have suspicions and to monitor, as you characterize, the activities of these organizations, quite another thing to be able to charge them criminally.

So even though you have suspicions and have you certain information, in order to move from that to a criminal charge to arrest people, that's not necessarily an easy thing to do, and I think that if you're talking about timing, which I heard brought up, the timing is probably connected with the gathering of the evidence. It's not that they chose their time, but they now felt they had enough evidence to go to a grand jury, to get an indictment and to criminally charge these people.

KAGAN: Steve, can you give us any definition where that bar is set? How do you go from suspicions to something worthy of charges? POMERANTZ: Well, you go and investigate it aggressively and thoroughly, which we know the FBI and the Justice Department have been doing since September 11th, and largely been playing catchup for failure to do that in the past. And you aggressively investigate, and you look at the statutes and you measure the activities of the individuals under investigation against the criminal law, and when you can convince a grand jury there's been actions that violate the criminal law, then you get an arrest warrant and you go arrest them.

KAGAN: What about these watchlists that we heard, Ed mention. How much suspicion would it take to be put on one of those?

POMERANTZ: Well, a watchlist, frankly, is not the word I would choose.

KAGAN: What would you use?

POMERANTZ: These are intelligence investigations that are undertaken on a reasonable suspicion that people are engaged in some activity in connection with international terrorism. There are guidelines that the FBI and the Justice Department employed to determine who may be investigated under those guidelines. And sometimes, those intelligence investigations yield information about criminal activities. And then you go from the monitoring phase to the active criminal investigation phase, and that's a pretty substantial leap, and what you have to do is, again, remember, this is a Democracy, and we have the protections of the criminal justice system, and they are protections.

So it's a pretty substantial leap from just monitoring for intelligence purposes to criminal charges.

KAGAN: You bring up a good point. because It seems like since 9/11, every time we have one of these arrests, there's two reactions. On one hand, there's a sense of relief, like perhaps the FBI or some other group has stopped something terrible from happening, but also there is a great concern in this country for civil liberties, and many people think those are being trounced on, and how much can law enforcement agencies go and how far can they go in pursuit of keeping Americans safe?

POMERANTZ: You know, it's a very legitimate debate. I do not dismiss the concerns of civil libertarians out of hand. I think there has to be a balance, just as there's a balance in the criminal law for protection of the individual against the protection of society, and the same balance needs to be achieved in monitoring these organizations.

I would argue that for years prior to September 11th, the balance was in favor of them. They operated, they raised money here for terrorism. They operated in a way they couldn't in their own home countries, and we allowed that to happen, and we are now playing catchup in trying to see who's here and what they're doing, determine exactly what the risk factors are. And I would argue that we're just getting this back into balance. I don't think that the average American citizen who is not involved in the support of terrorism needs to be concerned about the civil liberty issues here.

POMERANTZ: Steve Pomerantz. Thanks you so much for joining us, former FBI assistant director. Thanks so much for your expertise.


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