BALTIMORE (AP) – A man described as a high-ranking Hamas operative was arrested last week as he videotaped the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, authorities said Tuesday.

Ismael Selim Elbarasse, long suspected by authorities of having financial ties to the Palestinian extremist group, was held as a material witness in an unrelated terrorism case in Chicago. He was not charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the videotaping.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich said the arrest has prompted the state to place more police around the bridge, but said “it shouldn’t be a generator of fear. It should serve as a reminder that there is a war going on around the world.”

Elbarasse made an initial appearance in Baltimore federal court Monday before Magistrate Paul W. Grimm. He is to appear again Friday for a detention hearing at which the magistrate will likely decide to turn him over to federal officials in Chicago, authorities said.

A federal grand jury in Chicago, in an indictment unsealed Friday, described Elbarasse as an unindicted co-conspirator in a 15-year racketeering conspiracy to illegally finance terrorist activities in Israel.

Court documents allege he and defendant Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook – considered one of the highest-ranking Hamas leaders internationally – shared a Virginia bank account that was used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hamas.

“He is being held only on the material witness charge,” said Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office.

Neither his court-appointed attorney, Franklin W. Draper, nor his private attorney, Stanley Cohen, immediately returned calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Elbarasse was spotted Friday – the same day the Chicago indictment was made public – by two off-duty Baltimore County police officers on the Bay Bridge, a 4.3-mile span that links central Maryland with the Eastern Shore, authorities said. The officers noticed a man in an SUV who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent videotaping the bridge, authorities said.

Authorities said the man, who was with a woman and two teenagers, said they had gone to the beach but could not specify what beach they had visited. They said the camera had recorded close-up images that seemed unusual for a tourist, and that officers saw Elbarasse try to hide the camera.

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