Relief agency seeks to clear name in court

Friday, January 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:40 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

The Islamic American Relief Agency will have its first day in court today at a hearing in Washington, D.C., on a motion filed by the relief agency to unblock its assets. The Columbia-based charity filed the request in November to the Office of Foreign Asset Control, part of the U.S. Department of Treasury, asking that its funds be released.

Today’s hearing will determine whether the agency’s property will be unblocked and assets will be unfrozen to pay operating costs and possibly allow the charity to resume operations.

“The organization is on the brink of extinction,” said Shereef Akeel, the agency’s attorney. “They are just asking to resume what they have been doing for the last 20 years.”

The Treasury Department named the agency a “specially designated global terrorist” in October. The classification coincided with a search and seizure operation executed by 13 local and federal agencies. Officials confiscated computers, files, aid supplies and clothing from the agency’s headquarters at 201 E. Cherry St. They also searched the home of executive director Mubarek Hamed.

Akeel has maintained that the designation from the Department of Treasury is the result of confusion over the agency’s name. The department considers the Columbia agency an alias of the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency. Akeel said the two agencies have no ties, although they shared the title of Islamic African Relief Agency until the Columbia charity changed its name in 2000. The agency’s Web site has stated that the agencies acted as partners in various relief efforts.

John Zwerling, the charity’s attorney in Virginia, said he has not seen any allegations of improper behavior by the charity.

“The government merely thinks there is an association,” he said. “I have seen no proof the money was used for bad purposes.”

Akeel said he has no idea what to expect from today’s hearing. “We’re just trying to do what the law permits,” he said.

Andrea Gacki, attorney for the Justice Department, did not immediately return calls Thursday. The department has consistently declined to comment on the matter.

If the motion to unblock is denied, Akeel said the agency would continue to explore its legal options. It has a lawsuit pending against the Departments of Justice and Treasury, complaining of their actions in the search and seizure. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of the Treasury John Snow, special agent Paul Schlup and other unidentified treasury and justice personnel are also named as defendants in that suit.

Regardless of today’s outcome, there will be subsequent hearings on that matter.

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