Senior U.S. Officials Join Effort to Free 5 Israelis Held in Brooklyn

NEW YORK - Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage and two prominent New York congressmen are helping with efforts to release five Israelis arrested a few hours after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and held in Brooklyn under harsh conditions.

In a conversation with Israel's ambassador to the U.S., David Ivri, Armitage promised to look into the matter. Ha'aretz has also learned that two New York congressmen are trying to have their release speeded up. The relevant sources asked not to identify the congressmen.

Israel's Consul General in New York, Alon Pinkas, told Ha'aretz yesterday he plans to visit the five today and will ask the warden of the holding facility to improve their living conditions. Holding conditions for four of the Israelis were recently improved, but for some unclear reason, not for the fifth.

The five worked for a New Jersey moving company. They were arrested after they went up on the roof of a building and posed grinning for photographs with the burning Twin Towers in the background. Police found a large amount of cash in their car and suspected them of being members of a terrorist group.

In the subsequent investigation, it emerged that the five did not have permits to be living and working in the United States. Deportation orders were slapped on the five when Israeli officials became involved. The orders were issued ten days ago, but the five are still being held in Brooklyn.