Ties to Columbia Islamic agency denied

Tuesday, November 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

The Islamic African Relief Agency, based in Khartoum, Sudan, denied Saturday any ties to the Columbia-based Islamic American Relief Agency.

The Islamic American Relief Agency was raided by an FBI–led task force on Oct. 13. On the same day, the assets of both agencies were frozen and the agencies were listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists by the U.S. Treasury Department. They also were accused of supporting al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, and Hamas.

In a press release published Saturday by the Sudan News Agency, the Islamic African Relief Agency responded to the allegations by the Treasury Department and promoted the relief efforts of the agency with a list of nine “clarifications.” The Sudan News Agency is the official news agency of Sudan.

One of the clarifications states that the agency “categorically rejects the baseless, serious allegations made by the U.S. government against IARA and some of its senior staff” and said the agency was taking appropriate legal measures to challenge the accusations.

FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza had “no response” on Monday to the statement and said there is nothing new to report in what has previously been described as a criminal investigation.

Regarding its ties to the Islamic American Relief Agency in Columbia, the Islamic African Relief Agency said the Columbia-based charity “is an independent non-governmental organization established in the U.S. under American laws and run by American citizens. It is not a branch of the Islamic African Relief Agency.”

Shereef Akeel, a Michigan lawyer representing the Islamic American Relief Agency, said the statement correctly distinguished the two separate organizations.

“It is expected, because we have no relations,” Akeel said. “We have consistently stated that we are two separate organizations.”

Akeel said that the Columbia agency was about to celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. The agency was founded in 1985 as the Islamic African Relief Agency, and changed its name in 1999.

Three of the items in the news release explained the relief work of the Islamic African Relief Agency, which was established in 1981. The release said that the agency deals closely with the United Nations and it is coordinating a “huge relief operation” in Darfur, Sudan.

Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, indicated Monday that an organization with the acronym IARA has been working with the United Nations and the U.N. World Food Program in Sudan as recently as October. She could not immediately confirm the acronym was for the Islamic African Relief Agency.

The Islamic American Relief Agency has not operated in Sudan since the U.S. imposed sanctions on the African nation in 1997, Akeel said.

The designation by the Treasury Department, which included the “global network of the IARA,” makes it illegal to donate to the Islamic American Relief Agency, which the government views as a branch of the Sudan-based agency. Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said Monday that the designation still stands.

The Islamic American Relief Agency hopes to have a chance to defend itself against the allegations and resume its charity efforts, Akeel said.“My clients don’t even know what evidence they can answer to,” he said.

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