Hamas Goes Global

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Terrorism can be a brutally competitive business. Consider the radical Islamists of Hamas, who find themselves under pressure at home from Hizballah—a lethally efficient militia based in Lebanon and labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. Exploiting its burgeoning popularity in Palestine, Hizballah has cultivated an extensive network of operatives in the West Bank and Gaza since the intifadeh started 32 months ago. This makes Hamas—which has both its political turf and a reputation as Israel's chief nemesis to protect—rather jittery.

As a counter move, Hamas is expanding its operations out of the narrow Israeli theater. Jordanian security officials tell Time that two Hamas agents recently traveled to Afghanistan to recruit the remnants of al-Qaeda's network to join its operations in the Arab world. The Jordanians say this spells danger for many countries in the Middle East, especially since a growing number of Hamas leaders now argue that the best way to strike Israel is to attack U.S. targets in Arab countries. A choice venue for such attacks, they say, would be Iraq, where Hamas would find local groups willing to cooperate in attacks on occupying forces. As the bombings in Saudi Arabia last week revealed, foiling such plots could be very difficult.

Nor is Hamas likely to stop attacking Israel while it deals with Hizballah. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been futilely trying to tamp down Hamas since before he assumed his post last month. Although its spiritual leader, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, is at least willing to listen, most Hamas bosses in the Gaza Strip consider Abbas' regime a puppet of Israel and the U.S. Both governments have urged Abbas—who met with Secretary of State Colin Powell last week—to arrest Hamas leaders and agents if negotiations produce no results. So far, his moves have been tentative. A senior Israeli security official says Abbas' men recently seized four bombs intended for attacks on Israel but didn't pick up the men who planned to use them. "They found these bombs," the official complains, "but they didn't prevent the next one."