Muslims are fighting to keep their mosque as the federal government investigates a link between the Islamic Center of Springfield and a benefactor accused of financing terrorism around the world.
Greene County real estate records show the prayer house was deeded to Saudi-based Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in June 2000. But supporters of the center claim the Saudi charity was simply a one-time donor whose name ended up on its property title.
U.S. authorities accused the foundation of diverting donations to support a web of terrorist activities. The Saudi government dissolved the foundation last summer.
“There isn’t any evidence that the center was used to solicit funds or to contribute funds to terrorism,” said Ahmed Ibrahim, an associate history professor at Southwest Missouri State University. “Many people are angry and upset that they are seen as contributing to terrorism.”
Last month, the Bush administration formally designated Al-Haramain as a group suspected of supporting terrorism through its Springfield mosque and its main location in Ashland, Ore., saying the charity “shows direct links between the U.S. branch and Osama bin Laden.”
The foundation has denied its U.S. branch funded terrorism.
The federal investigation suggests the Islamic Center was a front that enabled the laundering of money to terrorists overseas.
A lawyer representing members of the mosque has asked Al-Haramain to acknowledge its one-time donation was a gift and to correct the alleged titling error.
“It’s not going to be an easy situation,” said Merrill Talpers, the lawyer for the mosque members. “We’ve got to get them to renounce any interest they have.”
The Islamic Center’s opening was a boon for Muslims here who for years set up makeshift mosques at locations ranging from spots at the Southwest Missouri State University to the basement of a doctor’s office. Many international students who once frequented the center returned to their home countries after the Sept. 11 attacks, and backers say the mosque’s finances are so tight it can barely pay its utility bills.
Worshippers hope their mosque’s name will be cleared of any terror link. Regardless, many say they’ll continue to use it.
“As long as this building is here, I’ll be coming,” said Ibrahima Barry, who previously managed the center. “It is a second home for me.”