Another Muslim Charity Arrest
- FLORIDA ARREST RENEWS DEBATE OVER MUSLIM CHARITIES
Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post, 1/4/03
ORLANDO - Prosecutors have not charged him with supporting
terrorism, but they have brought up his alleged ties to violent
groups in an unsuccessful attempt to have him held without bond on
charges of executing an elaborate, $ 2.5 million money-laundering
scheme that allegedly allowed him to employ more than 50 illegal
immigrants through shell companies.
The charges frame the case as a straightforward illegal-labor
crackdown, like those prosecuted almost every day in courtrooms
throughout the nation. But many Muslim leaders believe something
much bigger is happening here. What is really at stake, they say, is
whether thousands of Muslims nationwide -- Maali among them -- can
be considered supporters of terrorism because they donated to
charities that, after Sept. 11, 2001, were designated as conduits to
terrorists. The fears are compounded because Islam requires its
adherents to donate a portion of their annual income to charity -- a
practice known as zakat.
The allusions to terrorism in the Maali case inflamed the sizable
Muslim and Arab American communities here, leading to demonstrations
and impassioned assertions that Maali is being targeted because of a
hysterical reaction to the Sept. 11 terror attacks
"They wanted to make a splash," Maali said in a recent
interview. "Here now I have to go out and prove I'm innocent. This
is a new era. I hope America still stays America. I hope we are not
going to be a police state "
On the same day that Maali was arrested, federal prosecutors
announced in court that he had "financial ties to Middle Eastern
organizations who advocate violence." They did not elaborate, but
there was the promise of more to come at a bond hearing several days
As Maali sat in jail awaiting the hearing, tensions built outside. A
local television station superimposed his face next to an image of
Osama bin Laden and dubbed the case "Tourism for Terrorism."
Mosques were abuzz. Muslim leaders complained about what they said
was a discriminatory case. Maali's family held a traditional Ramadan
feast without him, an act resonant with emotional significance.
"It really shook our community," said Tariq Rashid, the imam of the
Jama' Masjid spiritual center in south Orlando and a tutor to some
of Maali's children. "To tie him to terrorism without solid proof,
this is wrong "
By the time of Maali's bond hearing, the authorities were preparing
for pandemonium, blocking streets and diverting traffic from
Orlando's federal courthouse. Outside, more than 200 people who
couldn't get a seat inside marched in support of Maali. Several
times during the day, dozens of Muslims broke off from the crowd and
knelt in the street to pray toward Mecca
During the bond hearing, FBI counterterrorism specialist Stephen
John Thomas outlined Maali's donations and said he collected $
30,000 for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which
the government has listed as a terrorist organization.
Thomas also said Maali corresponded with another charity that
allegedly has terrorist ties, Benevolence International Foundation.
Like Holy Land, Benevolence has denied supporting terrorism, but the
disavowals by both organizations have not swayed the federal judges
who ordered their assets frozen.
Faced with the allegations about ties to groups thought to be aiding
terrorism, Maali's attorneys struck back aggressively. They came up
with receipts to show that the $ 30,000 the FBI thought Maali was
collecting for the Popular Front actually went to the Palestinian
Aid Society, a group that has not been accused of terrorist links.
The correspondence with Benevolence turned out to have been sent by
one of Maali's employees...
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