Agency eyed by U.S. for 5 years

Thursday, October 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Since 1999, the Islamic American Relief Agency has been the object of U.S. government scrutiny. The group has consistently maintained that its activities are strictly related to its mission as a relief agency.

According to a profile in GuideStar, a national database of nonprofit organizations, the relief agency — which changed its name from the Islamic African Relief Agency in 1997 — provides funds for relief and development in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the United States.

The U.S. Department of Treasury on Wednesday singled out the Islamic African Relief Agency and five of its senior officials as part of a global network supporting Osama bin Laden. The Treasury Department said the Islamic African Relief Agency was “headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan, and maintains more than 40 offices throughout the world, including in the United States.”

The department said the agency was also known as the Islamic American Relief Agency, but made no mention of Columbia.

The Islamic American Relief Agency in Columbia was founded in 1985. The group’s largest program matches sponsors with children in need of support and medical care, according to GuideStar. The agency’s 990 form from 2002, which tax-exempts organizations with incomes of more than $25,000 must file with the IRS, lists total revenue from direct and indirect contributions at nearly $1.48 million.

In 1999, it was one of several charities whose funding activities were investigated by the U.S. Department of State. The agency lost a substantial portion of $4.2 million in federal funding it was slated to receive for operations in Mali. Instead, it received about $1 million. A State Department official at the time told the Missourian the decision was due to “matters of national defense.” The relief agency said it was being treated unfairly and appealed the loss of funding without success.

The New York Times reported in 2000 that the State Department believed the United States may have inadvertently supported terrorism through its support of the Columbia agency.

The charity found itself under renewed scrutiny in 2001 when federal prosecutors, during a trial in New York, alleged that Ziyad Khalil, a former Columbia College student with connections to the agency, bought a $7,500 satellite telephone later used by Osama bin Laden to organize the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Newsweek reported in February 2000 that Khalil had been detained in Jordan and provided FBI agents with critical information about bin Laden’s U.S. operations.

The Kansas City Star reported that Khalil arrived at Columbia College in January 1995 and emerged as a spokesman for the rights of Muslim students.

In January 2004, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee requested confidential IRS records from dozens of Muslim charities and foundations as part of an investigation of ties between tax-exempt organizations and terrorist groups. IARA records were among those requested.

The Washington Post reported that the investigation, prompted by Finance Committee hearings, was said to be focusing on whether certain groups deserved their tax-exempt status. By then, the Post reported, more than $136 million in assets allegedly linked to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups had been frozen by the United States.

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