Indianapolis Star – December 8, 2005
Senate keeping Muslim inquiry open
despite announcing its end
A U.S. Senate committee is pressing ahead in its two-year-old investigation of 25 Muslim groups -- including one from Plainfield -- despite a statement last month that nothing "alarming" had been found in tax records to tie them to terrorism.
The Senate Finance Committee began its probe of the Muslim groups, including the Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), with a December 2003 request that the Internal Revenue Service provide confidential tax documents submitted by the groups.
It was looking for evidence that the groups had financially supported terrorist groups.
Last month, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican Finance Committee chairman from Iowa, announced the probe had ended. In a written statement, Grassley said, "We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement agencies are already doing."
But Grassley's committee issued a new statement this week saying its lack of action does not mean the groups had been "cleared." The committee, the statement said, "will continue to gather information and examine the operations of the charities."
Sayyid M. Syeed, the Islamic Society's secretary-general, called the turn of events "very strange."
"Either they should come up with something as quickly as possible or they should not keep something like this hanging," Syeed said. "It is quite damaging. It is not right."
Syeed said he is confident there is nothing inappropriate in ISNA's operations.
Arsalan T. Iftikhar, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group that was not being reviewed, called the new statement by the Finance Committee "completely contradictory" to its announcement last month and the "reinitiation of a fishing expedition."…..
Toledo Blade – December 9, 2005
OH: Muslim charity calls for fairness
inquiry found no link to terrorism
A board member of a Toledo-based Muslim charity said yesterday that a Senate panel's two-year investigation into possible terrorist links, which ended recently with no allegations of wrongdoing, was "reminiscent of the McCarthy era."
Jihad Smaili, a Toledo native and Cleveland lawyer, said at a news conference yesterday in KindHearts' West Toledo offices that the U.S. Senate Finance Committee made a public announcement in 2003 that it was investigating 25 U.S. Muslim groups, but never announced that it ended the inquiry two weeks ago with no evidence of wrongdoing.
In the meantime, some potential KindHearts donors were scared off by the investigation and the charity's reputation was hurt by "false allegations" and "guilt by association," Mr. Smaili said.
He likened KindHearts' predicament to that of innocent Americans accused of being communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era in the 1950s.
"To put it simply, KindHearts is not connected in any way with a terrorist group or individual," he said.
When the Senate committee announced its investigation in 2003, Mr. Smaili said he wrote to the chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), and to each panel member inviting them to tour KindHearts' Toledo offices and to examine the charity's books. But he never received a response.
It would be helpful and fair to the groups investigated if Senator Grassley would announce that he found no connection to terrorists, Mr. Smaili said.
"We have been vindicated by our government, yet there are still those who want to accuse our organization of wrongdoing," he said…..
Reuters – December 7, 2005
Post-9/11, US Muslim charities fear work is at risk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a country seared by the September 11 attacks, Muslim American charities and donors say they live in constant fear of frozen funds, indictments and even closure, regardless of whether they have done anything wrong.
The case of former Florida university professor Sami al-Arian, who was acquitted on several charges of funding terrorists on Tuesday after almost three years in jail, highlights and underscores these concerns.
While government prosecutors said Arian provided money and support to Palestinian Islamic Jihad for terrorist activities, the defendant said any money he sent to the group was for charity. Arian remains in prison because the jury deadlocked on some charges and he could be retried.
"Donors and charities have a lot of things to fear," said Jihad Smaili, a lawyer for KindHearts, an Ohio-based charity founded as a vehicle for Islamic donations. "It's not just fearing substantiated accusations that a charity may be connected to a terrorist group, but also fearing the mere suspicion, or a witchhunt."
Imad ad-Dean Ahmed, head of the Islamic American Zakat Foundation, said donors were "concerned about donations being frozen and not getting to the intended destination, even when the organization may eventually be cleared." Giving alms, known as "zakat," to the needy is a requirement in Islam.
Muslim charitable giving has been in the spotlight since authorities discovered al Qaeda and other militants had abused charities to fund attacks. Three major U.S. Muslim charities have been shut down and hundreds of millions of dollars have been blocked as a result of counterterrorism efforts.
"Each day you would hear that someone has been arrested or some charity has come under scrutiny, so initially it was very difficult and sent a chilling message to the community," said Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, one of the largest U.S. Muslim groups.
Charities must be on guard on several fronts. They must make sure they do not accept funds from anyone identified as a suspected terrorist, which they say can be difficult when many donations come as $10 or $20 bills given by anonymous donors at religious services.
They must also ensure that none of their employees or board members are affiliated in any way with thousands of individuals or groups designated as militant by the U.S. government.
Once they raise money, charities must make certain none goes to a project or person linked to militants or banned groups. In regions where Islamic militant groups often have significant charitable operations, U.S. charities say it can be hard to distinguish good apples from bad……
Muslim Americans say the ripple effect of the government's hunt for terrorist funds has deeply shaken their community and led to an overhaul of Islamic charities.
"This isn't a game. There aren't any excuses and the U.S. government isn't taking any prisoners in terms of this issue," said Clareen Menzies, program officer for California-based Islamic Relief.
Some U.S. Muslim charities -- including the Zakat Foundation -- have stopped donating money abroad. Others, such as KindHearts and Islamic Relief, have their own offices abroad to make sure donations stay safe.
The Islamic Society of North America set up the National Council for American Muslim Non-Profits this year to serves as a watchdog to assure donors that certain charities are safe.
Some have made the Treasury guidelines their official policy, but note that the guidelines specifically state they are not automatic protection from prosecution.