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New indictments issued against Islamic charity

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 | 6:47 p.m. CST; updated 11:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — A federal indictment accuses members of the Islamic American Relief Agency of funneling $130,000 to bank accounts in Pakistan, knowing the money would ultimately benefit property owned by an Afghan man who has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. government.

The indictment, released Wednesday, clarifies previous charges brought against the agency, a charitable organization formerly based in Columbia. The new charges allege that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is the leader and founder of an Hezb-e-Islami-Gulbuddin, an organization that has participated in and supported terrorist acts. He also owns the building holding the orphanage for which the agency’s money was allegedly intended. A statement from the Justice Department says the indictment does not charge any of the defendants with “material support of terrorism” or of knowingly supporting terrorist acts.

Three defendants named in the indictment have lived in Columbia, including Mubarek Hamed, 51, the organization’s former executive director, and Ali Mohamed Bagegni, 52, a former member of the agency’s board of directors. Also indicted was Ahmad Mustafa, 55, an Iraqi citizen and former agency fundraiser. The three men were originally indicted in March 2007, along with other employees and associates of the organization, for money laundering and violating federal sanctions by transferring funds to Iraq.

The agency’s attorney, Shereef Akeel, said that neither he nor his clients have seen any of the U.S. Government’s evidence against the agency. “In those four years, I haven’t seen a shred of evidence to suggest that IARA did anything wrong,” Akeel said.

The newest indictment also names Mark Deli Siljander, a former congressman from Michigan who is charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The agency hired Siljander as a lobbyist in March 2004, shortly after the organization was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists. The indictment alleges that the $50,000 the agency paid Siljander was stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development by IARA, Hamed and Bagegni.

Siljander, who served in the House from 1981-1987, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.

He could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. His attorney in Kansas City, J.R. Hobbs, had no immediate comment.

Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Justice Department said Hekmatyar “has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan.”

The charges paint “a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payments for his advocacy,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein said.

Siljander founded the Washington-area consulting group Global Strategies Inc. after leaving the government.

The indictment alleges that the Islamic American Relief Agency paid Siljander with money that was part of U.S. government funding awarded to the charity years earlier for relief work it promised to perform in Africa, the indictment says. Under the grant agreement, the agency was supposed to return any unused funds after the relief project was wrapped up in 1999.

Instead, Siljander and three agency officers agreed to cover up the money’s origins and use it on the lobbying effort, the indictment charges.

In interviews with the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander denied doing any lobbying work for the agency. The money, he told investigators, was merely a donation to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity, the indictment says.

In 2004, the FBI raided the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA group’s headquarters and the homes of people affiliated with the group nationwide. Since then, the 20-year-old charity has been unable to raise money and its assets have been frozen.

The charity has denied the allegations that it has financed terrorism. The agency in Columbia has argued that it is a separate organization from the Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida. A federal appeals court in Washington ruled in February that there was a link between the two groups.

In an indictment handed down in March, the charity and four of its officers were charged with illegally transferring $1.4 million to Iraq from March 1991 to May 2003 — when Iraq was under various U.S. and U.N. sanctions.

The indictment also alleges that on 11 separate occasions the defendants transferred funds from the United States to Iraq through Amman, Jordan, in order to promote unlawful activity that violated Iraq sanctions.

In all, Siljander, IARA and five of its officers were charged with various counts of theft, money laundering, aiding terrorists and conspiracy.

Akeel, a civil rights attorney, said he believes that by pursuing cases like this one, the U.S. government is creating an environment in which public officials are wary of interactions with all Muslims.

“I hope they’re not using one person to send a message to other congressmen to stay away from other Muslim organizations and other Muslim charities,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Comments

Denis Labuhn January 17, 2008 | 8:56 a.m.

Why won't the US government leave these poor people alone?
They, and the really poor wretched people that they are trying to help, have suffered enough at the hands of the US Government and its idiotic foreign policies. These 5 leaders of this charity are likely in my opinion to be the closest thing to saints that Columbia Missouri has ever produced. When will it all end? The suffering seems to just go on and on in this interminable war for nothing. And children are suffering!

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