JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin decided last night to seek extradition from the United States of Mousa abu Marzuk, a leader of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, Israeli officials confirmed.
Mr. Rabin reportedly overruled the advice of the Justice Ministry, which said that Israel will have difficulty producing hard evidence in U.S. courts linking Mr. Abu Marzuk, 45, to specific terrorist acts.
Some officials and analysts expressed concern yesterday that Mr. Abu Marzuk's successful extradition could lead to a wave of attacks by Hamas inside Israel.
Israel suspects that Mr. Abu Marzuk was involved in an April suicide bombing in Gaza that killed a U.S. college student and seven Israelis.
For Mr. Rabin, Mr. Abu Marzuk's detention by U.S. immigration officials at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport last week has become the curse of getting what you wished.
The Israeli government has long pleaded with the Clinton administration to crack down on Hamas activities in the United States. The organization is thought to have an extensive fund-raising and publication network there, and Israel has also alleged that some Hamas operations against Israelis are ordered by leaders living legally in the United States, and even that some attacks are carried out by men trained in the United States.
Mr. Abu Marzuk, who Israeli security officials say is Hamas' political leader, is due in court today, and it is believed that the U.S. government may seek to deport him.
Uri Dromi, a government spokesman, said last night that the Israelis will ask U.S. authorities to delay any deportation procedures to allow Israel time to file its extradition request.
"We have to work out a way to convey to the Americans some information that the security agencies previously kept secret," Mr. Dromi said.
But Justice Ministry officials studying the case reportedly told Mr. Rabin that there is little evidence against Mr. Abu Marzuk that Israel could present in a U.S. court to link him directly with terrorist attacks without compromising intelligence sources.
Although the United States has classified Hamas as a terrorist organization and Mr. Abu Marzuk has reportedly admitted to immigration officials that he is a Hamas member, Israel would almost certainly have to present convincing evidence linking Mr. Abu Marzuk to specific terrorist attacks in order to win his extradition, legal experts here say.
Even if it did succeed in convincing a U.S. court, analysts here said yesterday, the Israeli government would then have to cope with the problems of imprisoning a man suspected of being the most important Hamas leader not already dead or jailed.
"They weighed all the issues, made all the calculations and decided to go for it," Mr. Dromi said.
Mr. Abu Marzuk has been a legal resident of the United States for 14 years. He was stopped after his name was found on a list of aliens not allowed to enter the country.