Muslim Charities Illegally Wiretapped
- SUIT: NSA ILLEGALLY WIRETAPPED ATTORNEYS
William McCall, Associated Press, 3/1/06
PORTLANPORTLAND A lawsuit filed Tuesday asked a federal court to
shut down electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency,
based on claims the NSA illegally wiretapped conversations between the
director of an Islamic charity and two of the charity's attorneys.
A chapter of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, a now-defunct Saudi
Arabian charity, was established in Ashland in 1997 as a prayer house
that also distributed Islamic literature. The chapter was indicted in
February 2004 on tax charges alleging it helped launder $150,000 in
donations to help al-Qaida fighters in Chechnya in 2000.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland alleges the NSA
illegally wiretapped electronic communications between the chapter and
Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, attorneys in Washington, D.C.
The complaint, which also names President Bush as a defendant, seeks
"an order that would require defendants and their agents to halt an
illegal and unconstitutional program of electronic surveillance of
United States citizens and entities."
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the two Washington attorneys and
the Al-Haramain chapter by three Portland civil-rights lawyers: Steven
Goldberg, Zaha Hassan and Thomas Nelson.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland had not yet seen the lawsuit
but likely would be unable to comment, based on national-security
concerns, said Barry Sheldahl, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Karin Immergut.
The complaint alleges the NSA did not follow procedures required by
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and failed to obtain a court
order authorizing electronic surveillance of the charity and its
The lawsuit also names the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control,
alleging it relied on information the NSA obtained without a warrant
to designate the chapter in Oregon a "specially designated global
terrorist" in September 2004.
The complaint notes that the former parent charity in Saudi Arabia has
never been designated a terrorist organization.
Hassan said the case is about "whether we are prepared to accept after
9/11 that the executive branch of our government has unlimited and
unchecked power to engage in unlawful activity at the expense of the
civil rights of Americans."
TOLEDO-AREA MUSLIMS ASK FOR JUSTICE, FEAR BACKLASH
David Yonke and Tom Troy, Toledo Blade, 2/22/06
Leaders of the Toledo-area Muslim community, stung by the second
federal investigation in 48 hours alleging links between some of their
own and terrorism, struggled yesterday to balance faith in the U.S.
justice system with fears of a possible backlash based on prejudice
On Sunday, the Treasury Department froze the assets of and padlocked
the West Toledo offices of the Muslim charity KindHearts while it
probes alleged links between the charity and Hamas terrorists in the
Yesterday, three local Muslims were indicted on federal terrorism
charges alleging that they plotted "holy war" against U.S. and
coalition troops in Iraq.
Representatives of three local mosques and a Muslim organization held
a press conference last night at the Clarion Westgate Hotel in West
Toledo to appeal for justice, denounce terrorism, and ask Toledoans
not to leap to judgment.
There are about 6,000 Muslims in the Toledo community and some have
roots going back 100 years, said Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for
Center of Greater Toledo. Many area Muslims have served in the U.S.
military, he added, and the Muslim community has been vigilantly
working with law-enforcement officials to keep an eye out for possible
From left, M.Y. Ahmed of the United Muslim Association of Toledo, Abed
Alo of the Masjid Saad Foundation, and S. Zaheer Hasan of the Islamic
Center of Greater Toledo appeal for support.
( THE BLADE/LORI KING )
Zoom | Photo Reprints
"First, we want justice to prevail and we believe in the justice
system of our country," Dr. Hasan said in an interview with The Blade.
"But we are concerned that it is putting Toledo Muslims on the map of
the world and there is nothing good about it."
He emphasized that the three men charged yesterday had no ties to the
Perrysburg Township mosque, one of the largest between New York and
Ziad Hummos, president of the Masjid Saad, a West Toledo mosque, said
the three indicted Toledoans had been seen occasionally at that mosque
but were not members or frequent attendees.
"Hopefully, if they're guilty, they will pay the price. And if they're
innocent, they will not be punished. If I knew they were going to harm
this country, I'd be the first one to turn them in," Mr. Hummos said.
"I would not hesitate. This is my country and the country of my
children. We want all the people of the United States to be living in
peace and harmony."
Jihad Smaili, a board member of the KindHearts charity, said he does
not know any of the three Toledoans who were indicted yesterday.
"These men have absolutely nothing to do with KindHearts," said Mr.
Smaili, a Toledo native and Cleveland attorney. "If the government has
any evidence that they are connected in any way, please bring the
evidence now, or stop picking on the charity that you destroyed two
Last year, when KindHearts was included in a list of two dozen U.S.
Muslim charities being investigated by a Senate panel, donations
dropped 25 percent even though no allegations or charges were ever
brought forth, Mr. Smaili said.
Dr. Hasan voiced concern that local Muslims might become fearful of
giving money to any Islamic group, even his mosque.
"Why would anybody want their name attached to institutions that are
being targeted?" he asked. "It has taken 60-plus years to build the
Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, and it could fall apart if people
will not want to give anything."
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, co-founder and board member of the United Muslims
Association of Toledo, said she fears that persecution of American
Muslims is on the rise. She said she would not be surprised if some
U.S. Muslims end up in internment camps like Japanese-Americans during
World War II.
"It's worse than 9/11," said the Toledo physician. "I think this is
just the beginning. The you-know-what has just hit the fan, and
American Muslims, primarily, will pay the price, followed by the
But Mohammed Alo, former president of the University of Toledo Muslim
Student Association who is editor of the Web site
www.toledomuslim.com, said "the Toledo Muslim community is pretty
resilient and well educated, for the most part. I think they should be
able to weather the storm."
The question, he said, is how non-Muslims will react to the
developments. He said he has confidence in local residents.
"Even after 9/11, the Toledo community was very supportive of Muslims.
I don't think we'll have too much of a fallout," Mr. Alo said.
Officials for the city of Toledo and the University of Toledo
yesterday called on the public to resist blaming terrorism on any
religious or ethnic groups.
"After an announcement like this - particularly one that hits so close
to home - sometimes there is a tendency to make false assumptions or
unfairly group people based on culture, race, or other superficial
identifiers," UT President Dan Johnson said in an e-mail yesterday to
the campus community. "The University of Toledo is a diverse community
and while this announcement is unnerving, it must not detract from our
strength or unity."
One of the three suspects in yesterday's indictment, Wassim Mazloum,
has been attending the University of Toledo since Jan. 16, 2001, and
is majoring in computer science and engineering, university records show.
Records show that another suspect, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, attended UT
from Jan. 16, 2001, to May 4, 2001, and had an undecided major.
Mr. Johnson cautioned people not to unfairly judge or group people
based on culture or race because of the indictments.
"It is important to remember that those who use violence solely to
terrorize make no such distinctions when they attack innocents," Mr.
Johnson wrote in a letter to the UT community.
Gerald Heuring, director of UT's computer science and engineering
undergraduate program, said he has spoken with Mr. Mazloum regarding
his studies on a number of occasions but couldn't recall discussing
anything unusual. He said he could not comment on Mr. Mazloum's
indictment because he was unfamiliar with the allegations.
Other UT faculty members who said they had heard about the indictment,
but did not personally know the students, said their initial feeling
of surprise was replaced with one of disbelief and regret that
Toledo-area residents could be involved in terrorist activity.
"You don't expect anything like that in Toledo," said Afzal Upal, an
electrical engineering and computer science assistant professor.
John Shousher, an Oregon businessman and Arab-American leader, said
the vast majority of Muslim-Americans condemn terrorism "1,000 percent."
Blade staff writers Erika Ray and Ignazio Messina contributed to this
U.S. MUSLIMS SEEK TREASURY MEETING ON CHARITIES
WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - A coalition of U.S. Muslim
organizations on Tuesday requested a meeting with Treasury Secretary
John Snow to discuss concerns that Muslim charities are targeted in
the government's counterterrorism efforts.
In a letter to Snow, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and
Elections (AMT) said government closures of Islamic charities have
hindered American Muslims' ability to carry out their religious
obligation to help the needy.
The coalition of 10 organizations referred to action this month
against Kindhearts, a Toledo, Ohio-based Islamic nonprofit group,
whose assets were blocked pending an investigation.
The Treasury Department said Kindhearts had links to the Palestinian
group Hamas, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the government has designated
three major U.S. Muslim charities as suspected sponsors of terrorism
and frozen their assets.
Muslim charitable giving has been in the spotlight since authorities
discovered al Qaeda and other militants had abused charities to fund
In the letter to Snow, AMT said most of KindHearts' frozen assets were
earmarked for earthquake relief in Pakistan and for a new division in
"Although we understand the political climate of our country and
support our government's efforts to thwart terrorist financing; we
find it unfair that our government has yet made another extrajudicial
decision to effectively wipe-out more than five years of humanitarian
assistance to the world's needy by the mere stroke of a pen," the
Molly Millerwise, a Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment on future
engagements for Snow, but denied that Treasury was targeting Muslim
"The charge that they've made is completely untrue. We've worked very
closely with the charitable sector and specifically with the Muslim
American charitable sector to safeguard charitable giving against
terrorist financing," she said.
"The Treasury has issued voluntary guidelines to strengthen
transparency to help ensure money intended for charitable activities
does not fall into the hands of terrorists," Millerwise added.
Many Muslim charities and organizations in the United States say they
feel like targets of a government "witch hunt" since Sept. 11.
Required by their faith to pay "zakat," or alms for the needy, Muslims
say the U.S. government crackdown is intimidating donors.
MUSLIM CHARITIES TARGETED, GROUP SAYS
David Yonke, Toledo Blade, 3/1/06
An American Muslim coalition is seeking to meet with Treasury
Secretary John Snow to discuss the padlocking of the Toledo-based
charity, KindHearts, and "the continued targeting of Muslim charities
without due process of law."
Federal agents, using the power of an executive order, closed
KindHearts' West Toledo headquarters on Feb. 19 and froze its assets
while authorities investigate the Muslim charity for alleged support
of Hamas terrorists in the Middle East.
The funds, which KindHearts said were more than $1 million, were
frozen "to prevent asset flight" while the federal investigation is
under way, according to Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for
terrorism and financial intelligence.
Yesterday, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and
Elections, a Washington-based coalition of Muslim organizations, sent
a letter to Secretary Snow about KindHearts, which technically is
"blocked" and not closed, and the permanent closures of three U.S.
Muslim charities that were shut down after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.
Islamic law requires Muslims to donate to charity and places
restrictions on how the funds are to be distributed, steps that
usually are not met by secular American charities, Muslim leaders say.
"The closures ... have im-paired the ability of American Muslims to
carry out their religious obligation to help the needy in this country
and overseas," AMT said in its letter to Secretary Snow.
While AMT officials "support our government's efforts to thwart
terrorist financing, we find it unfair that our government has yet
made another extrajudicial decision to effectively wipe out more than
five years of humanitarian assistance to the world's needy by the mere
stroke of a pen."
"What happened to due process laws," Jihad Smaili of KindHearts asked
last night. "Corporations have rights just as individuals do under our
Constitution. It's clear that you should at least ask a question or
two before you shoot."
He said the government is "making our options very, very limited for
giving to charity. It's really not helping the Muslim and
Arab-American communities to embrace our new home, which is the United
States of America."
KindHearts officials claim the closing of the Toledo office and the
freezing of funds were politically motivated because the U.S.
government was displeased with the Hamas party's legislative victory
in the Palestinian territories in January.
Mr. Smaili said last night that Secretary Snow should "grant the
request and sit down and talk. Hopefully we can get some answers."
Molly Millerwise, a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department, said
last night that she has no comment on AMT's request to meet with
But she said Treasury officials have worked closely with charities,
including Muslim charities, to draft voluntary guidelines creating
"transparency" in how charities operate.
She said the guidelines were revised in 2005 based on input from the
As for freezing funds while an investigation is being conducted, she
said they're very aware of the balancing act "and want to ensure that
money flows to charitable causes. However, if any money, even a small
portion, goes to a terrorist organization, then that is something we
have to ensure does not happen."
The government's use of an executive order to "block" a charity is
typically used to keep the assets of a U.S.-based charity from going
overseas, Ms. Millerwise said.
Contact David Yonke at:
dyonke @ theblade.com
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