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Agents search local Islamic relief group

Wednesday, October 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Federal and local law enforcers were searching the Islamic American Relief Agency on Wednesday as part of what the FBI described generically as a criminal investigation.

The search of the Columbia office occurred as the Bush administration accused the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency of helping finance Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

The Treasury Department directed U.S. banks to block any assets found in this country belonging to the Islamic African Relief Agency and five designated officials. The department said the group, headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan, has more than 40 offices worldwide, including one in Columbia.

People wearing FBI outfits carried computers, cardboard boxes and file cabinets out of the Islamic group's Columbia office and loaded the equipment into a white van and U-Haul truck. Among those participating in the search was a man wearing a jacket of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza would not say whether the search was connected to terrorism. He also declined to characterize the investigation, saying the federal search warrant remained under seal.

``No one's being detained, and no one has been arrested,'' Lanza said.

The search began around 2:30 p.m. and involved 11 law enforcement agencies, Lanza said. FBI agents also were searching a Columbia home, Lanza said. He declined to elaborate.

The Islamic nonprofit group was formed in 1985, according to its Web site, and among other things provides emergency relief to refugees in Afghanistan. The group also promotes aid efforts in such places as Iran, Ethiopia, Mali and Bosnia. It is located near downtown Columbia, not far from the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The group's Web site offers the chance to sponsor an overseas orphan ($30 a month will provide a one-on-one sponsorship). The Islamic organization also provides vocational training and primary health care, including immunizations, nutrition counseling, prenatal care, infection disease prevention and clean water supplies, according to its Web site.

No one answered a phone call Wednesday at the Islamic American Relief Agency.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides disaster or poverty aid to nations, awarded the Islamic American Relief Agency about $4.2 million in contracts in the 1990s for relief projects in northern Mali, USA Today reported in September 2001. The contracts were canceled in November 2000, when then-Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering wrote that continuing them ``would be contrary to the national defense and foreign policy interest of the United States.''

The Treasury Department alleged that the overseas branches of the Islamic African Relief Agency and five of its officials — all listed as being outside the United States — provided ``hundreds of thousands of dollars'' to bin Laden in 1999. Treasury also believes that as early as 2003 the group was responsible for moving money to the Palestinian territories to support terrorist activities and served ``as a conduit to Hamas in one Western European country.''

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Federal and local law enforcers were searching the Islamic American Relief Agency on Wednesday as part of what the FBI described generically as a criminal investigation.

The search of the Columbia office occurred as the Bush administration accused the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency of helping finance Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

The Treasury Department directed U.S. banks to block any assets found in this country belonging to the Islamic African Relief Agency and five designated officials. The department said the group, headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan, has more than 40 offices worldwide, including one in Columbia.

People wearing FBI outfits carried computers, cardboard boxes and file cabinets out of the Islamic group's Columbia office and loaded the equipment into a white van and U-Haul truck. Among those participating in the search was a man wearing a jacket of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza would not say whether the search was connected to terrorism. He also declined to characterize the investigation, saying the federal search warrant remained under seal.

``No one's being detained, and no one has been arrested,'' Lanza said.

The search began around 2:30 p.m. and involved 11 law enforcement agencies, Lanza said. FBI agents also were searching a Columbia home, Lanza said. He declined to elaborate.

The Islamic nonprofit group was formed in 1985, according to its Web site, and among other things provides emergency relief to refugees in Afghanistan. The group also promotes aid efforts in such places as Iran, Ethiopia, Mali and Bosnia. It is located near downtown Columbia, not far from the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The group's Web site offers the chance to sponsor an overseas orphan ($30 a month will provide a one-on-one sponsorship). The Islamic organization also provides vocational training and primary health care, including immunizations, nutrition counseling, prenatal care, infection disease prevention and clean water supplies, according to its Web site.

No one answered a phone call Wednesday at the Islamic American Relief Agency.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which provides disaster or poverty aid to nations, awarded the Islamic American Relief Agency about $4.2 million in contracts in the 1990s for relief projects in northern Mali, USA Today reported in September 2001. The contracts were canceled in November 2000, when then-Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering wrote that continuing them ``would be contrary to the national defense and foreign policy interest of the United States.''

The Treasury Department alleged that the overseas branches of the Islamic African Relief Agency and five of its officials — all listed as being outside the United States — provided ``hundreds of thousands of dollars'' to bin Laden in 1999. Treasury also believes that as early as 2003 the group was responsible for moving money to the Palestinian territories to support terrorist activities and served ``as a conduit to Hamas in one Western European country.''


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