The militant group Hamas warned President Clinton on Tuesday of "a wave of anger and retaliation throughout the Arab and Islamic world" if the United States extradites a detained Hamas leader to Israel.
Hamas, in a letter published Tuesday, demanded the immediate release of Mousa Abu Marzuk. Otherwise, it said, "the United States is putting itself in an open confrontation with the Arab and Islamic peoples."Abu Marzuk, head of the political wing of Hamas, was detained last week by immigration officials in New York. Israel issued a warrant for his arrest and said it would seek his extradition.
The Hamas letter was published Tuesday as an advertisement on the front page of the Jerusalem-based Arabic newspaper An-Nahar. The ad urged supporters to fax copies of the letter - printed in Arabic and English - to the White House and the U.S. State and Justice departments.
Ghazi Hamad, editor in chief of the Gaza-based Hamas weekly newspaper Al-Watan, said the retaliation would include killings and kidnappings similar to those claimed by Hamas after its spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, was arrested in 1989.
Yasin is serving a life sentence for ordering the killing of informers and Israeli soldiers.
"Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldiers and carried out special operations to release Sheikh Ahmad Yasin," Hamad said. "I believe it would carry out similar attacks on American targets."
In the letter to Clinton, Hamas said Abu Marzuk's arrest was "without any legal justification" and had caused "our extreme dissatisfaction and abhorrence."
"In our view, this can only add to the depth of feeling of the biased nature of your foreign policy against Arabs and Muslims," the letter said.
The Arabic text of the letter, but not the English translation, goes on:
"If your government decides to hand Abu Marzuk to the Israeli authorities, we would consider this a hostile act against all Arabs and Muslims. You will bear the consequences of such an act."
Hamas, which wants to establish Islamic rule in all the land it considers Palestinian, including Israel, has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks that have killed scores of Israelis. The group opposes the Israel-PLO peace accord.
Nafez Azam, spokesman for another militant group, Islamic Jihad, said the United States would "pay dearly" for detaining Abu Marzuk or extraditing him to Israel. He refused to elaborate.