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Hamas link in foiled plot to bomb New York subway

An apparent terrorist plot targeting the New York underground system was linked yesterday to the radical Palestinian group Hamas. The group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's double-suicide bombing in a Jerusalem market that left 15 people dead.

A law enforcement source said investigators believed the suspects arrested in a police raid on a Brooklyn apartment at dawn on Thursday made telephone calls to the organisation from a grocer and a laundrette in the area.

Five men detained in connection with the alleged plot were said to be of Middle Eastern origin, but the authorities earlier warned against rushing to any conclusions and rejected any direct link with this week's suicide attack in Jerusalem.

Two of the five were still in hospital yesterday after being shot by police during the Brooklyn raid. One other man was arrested during the same raid, while the other two were picked up later in unspecified circumstances. The raid - part of a massive police operation in which nearby blocks were evacuatedand underground railway lines halted - uncovered five bombs described by explosives experts as capable of killing and causing massive damage.

The two wounded men were yesterday charged with terrorist offences and named. One was said to be Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer, aged 23, who carried a Jordanian passport, but came from Hebron. The authorities said that he had been accused in Israel of being a "member of a known terrorist organisation". The second was named as Lafi Khalil, aged 22, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Ajoul.

A third man, named by the New York Times, but not by the authorities, was said to be an Egyptian called Abdul Rahman Mossabah.

The FBI and the New York Police said in a statement that the two named men were "planning to target US and Jewish interests worldwide". Abu Mezer was earlier said to have told investigators that they had planned to use the explosives on the New York subway and elsewhere in the city.

Even while the mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, tried to create an air of calm, insisting that any threat there might have been was now over, speculation was rife. CBS news quoted Palestinian sources as saying that the men were Hamas members. The report also said they answered to Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas member released by the US to Jordan earlier this year.

Relatives of the two named men, however, contacted by the Associated Press in Hebron, said that they were not involved in terrorism and only wanted asylum in the United States. Asylum application papers were reportedly found during the Brooklyn raid.

The New York police operation was yesterday being treated as a major victory against terrorism, and President Clinton paid tribute to those involved in it. He warned, however, against reaching conclusions "without ironclad evidence to support them".

New York was targeted by Middle Eastern terrorists four years ago, when an attempt was made to blow up the World Trade Centre, and attacks on other buildings, including the United Nations, were foiled by police. An Egyptian Muslim cleric is in prison after being convicted of organising the World Trade Centre bombing.