The denial came after three Hamas members were indicted in the US on Friday for raising funds and committing other acts for terrorist purposes.

"It is quite obvious that the Bush administration is in the midst of a problem - facing a drop in its popularity during the elections," Hamas political bureau chief Muhammad Nizal told Aljazeera.

"This is why this administration is trying, before election time, to offer sacrifices to the Zionist lobby inside the US to help boost its faltering popularity, all under the banner of fighting terrorism."

Nizal was commenting on news that a Hamas leader and two other suspected members of the resistance group had been indicted on charges that they participated in providing money for "terrorist acts in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip".

Laundering money

The three activists allegedly used bank accounts in the US to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas, which Washington has designated a "terrorist organisation".

The indictment against the three, filed in Chicago, was unsealed on Friday by Attorney General John Ashcroft.  

One of the activists is Musa Muhammad Abu Marzuq, formerly chief and now deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau. He is believed to be living in Damascus, Syria, and is considered a fugitive, Ashcroft said.

The two others - Muhammad Hamid Khalil Salah of Chicago and Abd Al-Halim Hasan Abd Al-Raziq Ashqar of Alexandria, Virginia, were arrested late on Thursday night. Salah once worked as a substitute teacher in Chicago's public schools.

'Politically motivated'

Lawyer for Ashqar, Ashraf Nubani, called the indictment "politically motivated". He noted Ashqar was under home arrest stemming from an earlier indictment on charges of obstruction of justice and said he had appeared at every required court hearing. 

"The cell allegedly financed the activities of a terrorist organisation that was murdering innocent victims abroad including American citizens"

John Ashcroft,
US Attorney General

Federal prosecutor Neil Hammerstrom said the latest indictment included charges "far more serious" against Ashqar than he originally had faced. 

It was the second major Hamas-related indictment announced by the Justice Department in the past month. 

Racketeering

The three were charged with a racketeering conspiracy with 20 others since at least 1988 to conduct business for Hamas, which Washington said included conspiracies to commit murder, kidnapping, passport fraud and other crimes. 

They "were indicted for their roles in [a] 15-year racketing conspiracy in the US and abroad. The cell allegedly financed the activities of a terrorist organisation that was murdering innocent victims abroad including American citizens", Ashcroft said. 

He said the three played "a substantial role in financing and supporting international terrorism" and "allegedly ran a US-based terrorist and financing cell" associated with Hamas. 

Rejecting allegations

But Nizal would have none of it. "Hamas has no organisation in the US. We only have a large Arab Muslim Palestinian community that positively interacts with the Palestinian issue," he said.

"Nobody in the US has any organisational relationship with Hamas. Even Muhammad Salah was a prisoner in Israel where he was detained for several years and later released," he told Aljazeera.

He explained that Marzuq was a prisoner in the US between 1995 and 1997, under the same charges now raised. "Following his release in 1997, Marzouq left for Jordan where he lived for several years."

US-educated Marzuq holds a PhD in industrial engineering and lived in the US for 15 years, in Louisiana and Virginia. In 1995, he was detained by US authorities on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

He was expelled to Jordan and later sent by Jordan to Syria. 
Ashqar was accused of opening bank accounts in Mississippi for Hamas purposes.