The federal investigation into the Islamic American Relief Agency is far more widespread than it seemed at the outset.
Jeff Lanza, a spokesman for the FBI office in Kansas City, said on Saturday that agents with 26 of the agency’s 56 field offices interviewed 80 to 90 people on Wednesday and Thursday in connection with the investigation in Columbia.
FBI officials on Wednesday searched and removed items from the agency’s headquarters in Columbia as well as a private residence in Connecticut. It has since become clear that the two are linked and the inquiry is much broader in scope.
Lanza said the interviews occurred “all over the nation, not just regionally,” and were wrapped up by Thursday. He would not comment on whether those interviewed by the FBI field offices knew one another or had made donations to the charity in Columbia.
The Islamic American Relief Agency at 201 E. Cherry St. was raided on Wednesday afternoon by federal agencies including the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives.
The FBI said the search and seizure of records and computers was part of a federal search warrant that remains under seal in a federal court in Jefferson City.
The Columbia home of Mubarek Hamed, executive director of the Islamic American Relief Agency, was also searched along with three units at a Columbia rental storage business.
In Wolcott, Conn., the home of Majeed Sharif was also searched on Wednesday. The FBI seized financial and other records from Sharif, president of the United Muslim Mosque in Waterbury, Conn.
The mosque’s vice president, Magdy Galal, said Sharif had made several visits to Africa to help feed the poor and build wells for drinking water. Galal said Sharif’s efforts were entirely humanitarian.
Lanza noted that the Connecticut search occurred under a separate warrant, which was also sealed. He would not comment on that operation, but said that he was not aware of any search warrants being executed other than in Columbia and Wolcott.
No charges have been filed against any individuals in connection with the searches.
Lanza on Saturday said the Columbia charity remains the focus of the investigation and that the FBI has seized “all of the items called for in the search warrant.”
He said the FBI does not expect to conduct additional searches in Columbia any time soon.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has frozen the assets of the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency and its 40 international affiliates. The U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control, which is under the Treasury Department, has alleged that the charity has provided support to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and Hamas and listed it as a “specially designated global terrorist.”
The designation makes it illegal for anyone to provide monetary or other support to the agency.
The Web site for the Islamic American Relief Agency —www.iara-usa.org — was updated after Wednesday’s raid.
“Regretfully, IARA-USA’s charitable activities have been suspended as of October 13,” the home page reads. The message asks that no donations be sent at this time, adding that the organization encourages generosity during Ramadan through other qualified agencies.
U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, said Treasury Department officials said that people who have given donations to the Islamic American Relief Agency in good faith before Wednesday “need not worry about the legality of their donation.” Hulshof said he was briefed on Friday by the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence within the Treasury Department and said he will receive a briefing from the FBI on Monday. He said it’s his assumption that the Treasury Department and FBI officials will take several weeks to complete a review of all the documents seized.
Also on Friday, InterAction, an alliance that provides support to more than 160 U.S.-based relief agencies, suspended the Islamic American Relief Agency’s membership after reviewing the sanctions by the Treasury Department.
Sen. Kit Bond commented on this week’s developments after speaking with students at Oakland Junior High School on Friday.
He said he does not know whether any allegations will be proven against the Columbia organization.
“It’s an ongoing battle,” Bond said. “There have been other charitable agencies shut down, and I assume there will be many more.”
Bernell Dorrough and Brendan Shea of the Missourian and the Associated Press contributed to this report.