Judge upholds freeze on Islamic charity funds

The group denies links to terrorists and seeks new legal alternatives.
Sunday, September 18, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:07 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

A federal judge has found “substantial evidence” linking a local charity to an organization accused of funding global terrorism.

The Treasury and Justice departments were warranted in their decision to freeze the assets the Columbia-based Islamic American Relief Agency, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ruled Thursday.

The ruling dismissed a lawsuit brought by the relief agency seeking to restore its funding, granting a summary judgment motion by the defendants, who included former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

“I am very disappointed,” said Shereef Akeel, attorney for the charity.

The charity was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists on Oct. 13, 2004, which meant its assets were immediately frozen by the Treasury Department. Its Columbia office was raided by a task force involving 13 federal and local agencies.

The agency has protested the designation, arguing that the Treasury Department based its decision on the agency’s supposed ties to the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency — ties the Columbia charity has said don’t exist.

The charity was incorporated in Columbia with the name Islamic African Relief Agency and has said confusion over the similar name and acronym are the reason for the designation.

Federal agencies have said the local and Sudanese agencies are the same and are part of a network of terrorists that provides funding to Hamas and al-Qaida.

Akeel has admitted the charity partnered with the Sudanese agency on certain projects, yet has denied any links to terrorism.

Walton was sympathetic to the agency’s “inherent disadvantage” in the case, noting that it was unable to see the evidence levied against it. He determined, however, that “the (federal) agency’s decision to block the IARA-USA’s assets was not arbitrary and capricious, but is in fact supported by substantial evidence.”

Akeel said the agency will continue to explore all its legal options, including a possible appeal.

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