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UPDATE: Former Columbia man admits to conspiracy

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 | 4:59 p.m. CDT

*CORRECTION: This article has been modified to more accurately describe the illegal transfer of money that the federal government claims was sent to Iraq by the Islamic American Relief Agency.

KANSAS CITY–The former secretary of a Columbia-based Islamic charitable organization has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to illegally transfer money to Iraq, according to a release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District in Kansas City.*

On Tuesday, Ali Mohamed Bagegni entered a plea in U.S. District Court. He was one of five members of the Islamic American Relief Agency in Columbia indicted in March 2007. The 33 counts alleged that the group stole government and public money and falsely represented fundraising goals, as previously reported by the Missourian.

The federal government also claims that between March 1991 and May 2003, the group illegally transferred $1.4 million to Iraq, according to the Missourian's article.

IARA, formerly headquartered at 201 E. Cherry St., has been a subject of a federal investigation since at least 2004. On Oct. 13 of that year, the group was designated a global terrorist organization, its assets were frozen, and at least a dozen local, state and federal law enforcement agencies raided its downtown offices.

The Islamic Africa Relief Agency was founded in Columbia in 1985 as an American-affiliate of a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida. In 1999, the group tried to distance itself from those suspicions by changing its name to the Islamic American Relief Agency.

Although the charity repeatedly denied any connection to al-Qaida, in February 2007 the federal government said the link was legitimate. Bagegni admitted sending money to Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign, a violation of U.S. sanctions, according to a report from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Bagegni, formerly of Columbia, was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at the time of his arrest. The 56-year-old native of Libya faces up to five years in prison. Sentencing has not been scheduled.

The fate of the charity is also uncertain. Although operations were shut down indefinitely in 2004, the group has made efforts to get its money back. In 2004 and 2006, the group tried to unfreeze its accounts with the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the U.S. Treasury Department. Both attempts were unsuccessful.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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