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Muslim Charities Illegally Wiretapped

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    SUIT: NSA ILLEGALLY WIRETAPPED ATTORNEYS William McCall, Associated Press, 3/1/06
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2006
      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."


      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
      and stereotypes.

      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
      the Islamic

      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.

      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
      days ago."

      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
      European Muslims."

      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


      Reuters, 2/28/06

      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
      South Asia.

      "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
      letter said.

      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.


      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
      Secretary Snow.

      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
      or 419-724-6154.



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