Chicago Tribune - March 11, 2005
Bank closes mosque account
Donations to charity in terror case cited
By Deborah Horan and Laurie Cohen
A Palos Hills bank has closed the account of a Bridgeview mosque because the mosque donated $10,000 to an Islamic charity that is now under federal scrutiny for allegedly helping terrorists.
Family Bank and Trust Co. told the Mosque Foundation to take its business elsewhere in a December letter to mosque leaders, said the mosque's imam, Sheikh Jamal Said.
In a later meeting with mosque leaders, bank officials said they took the action because the mosque wrote two checks totaling $10,000 to the Islamic American Relief Agency, said Mosque Foundation President Oussama Jamal.
Jamal said the mosque made its donations in August and September, before the U.S. government froze the charity's assets and raided its Missouri offices in October. At that time, the Treasury Department alleged the organization was part of an international front group for Al Qaeda, a charge denied by Islamic American Relief.
Bank officials declined to comment about the Mosque Foundation.
A mosque in Houston founded by former NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon came under fire this year for contributing to Islamic American Relief and another charity allegedly linked to terrorism. Olajuwon has said he was unaware of any terrorism connections when he made the donations.
The Bridgeview mosque, one of the area's largest, has attracted attention because of the ultraconservative religious views of some of its leaders and their public support of Palestinian militants. One of the mosque's former officials was indicted last year, accused of helping to run a 15-year racketeering scheme to fund terrorism by the militant Islamic group Hamas.
Before its recent donations to Islamic American Relief, the mosque made two other donations to the charity totaling $20,393 in 1992 and 1999, according to mosque annual reports. The mosque also gave a total of about $374,000 to three other charities that were later shut down by the federal government and accused of having links to terrorism: Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Benevolence International Foundation and Global Relief Foundation.
The closing of the mosque's bank account has prompted some community leaders to question the mosque's decision to allow Islamic American Relief to solicit donations in Bridgeview.
But others in the community questioned the bank's right to close an account based on a transaction that was legal at the time it was made. Muslim civil rights activists said they fear that more banks will be overly cautious about Muslim accounts.
"We're starting to see a trend of Muslim institutions and individuals' [accounts] being closed summarily without any explanation," said Arsalan Iftikar, a legal adviser for the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We're concerned we're seeing a pattern here."
Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, said privacy laws prevent bank regulators and banks from discussing individual accounts. In general, Hofer said banks aren't required to explain why they close customer accounts….