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Islamic American Nonprofits Face Increased Scrutiny in U.S.

Charities' financial records are sought to see if any money is funneled to terrorist groups.


Arch McColl, InfoCom's lawyer, said the company is "a bunch of nerd-birds who wanted to make some entrepreneurial money." He said he knew of no evidence that InfoCom had funneled money to Hamas.

In Boston, Treasury officials are interested in Care International, which describes itself as a relief organization for "war refugees around the Muslim world."

Care International, which is not related to the Atlanta-based relief and development agency CARE, is listed on state incorporation records the same address as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a branch of a Bin Laden charity in Pakistan whose assets were frozen by the Treasury Department in September. The address is a Mail Boxes Etc. box. Care officials say they do not know of a connection between their organization and Al-Kifah.

Care International gave more than $180,000 over the last five years to Global Relief Foundation of Illinois, another charity under scrutiny by Treasury.

Global Relief, which reported $5.2 million in contributions last year, says its money goes for humanitarian efforts in places like Afghanistan and to Palestinian refugees.

"We would just close up shop if we suspected our money would be used for bad things," said Asim Ghafoor, a spokesman for both charities.

Checking Out Any Links to Bin Laden

In Burbank, investigators are looking at Islamic Relief Worldwide, a charity whose British office received $50,000 in 1999 from a Canadian group that the Treasury Department says is a Bin Laden front.

The president of Islamic Relief said he was unaware that the Canadian charity, Human Concern International, had any links to terrorism.

"I would be more concerned if we gave them money," said Ahmad Al-Bendary. "We would never give to any group that has any terrorist connections."

Another of the eight charities under scrutiny--Benevolence International Foundation in Chicago--received $14,000 from the Canadian group last year.

Benevolence said it did not know about the contribution. The group said in a statement that its "humanitarian work throughout the world is transparent and a matter of public record."

Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the specter of Sept. 11 will make Islamic charities ask more questions about how their money is used.

She said many Islamic groups have refrained from questioning where their money went once it was sent overseas, for fear that foreign governments might respond by barring them from serving needy people in those countries.

Dr. Ali Zaki said he learned the hard way to ask questions.

The San Francisco doctor said he unwittingly took Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor now considered Bin Laden's second-in-command, on a fund-raising tour of California mosques about 10 years ago.

Al-Zawahiri, a physician, said that his name was Abdel Muez and that he was working with the Kuwaiti Red Crescent, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, to help Afghans fighting the Soviets.

Zaki said he didn't learn until the FBI questioned him, years later, that his companion was actually Al-Zawahiri and that the money probably helped fund terrorist activity overseas.

"I'm concerned about the Muslim community at large," Zaki said. "I'm concerned about anyone who donates to good causes."


Getter reported from Washington, Neubauer from Chicago and Lopez from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Teresa Watanabe, Mark Fineman, Matt Lait, Scott Glover, and researchers Robert Patrick and Janet Lundblad also contributed to this report.


Groups Under Treasury Scrutiny

Benevolence International Foundation

Palos Hills, Ill.

Contributions 2000: $3.2 million

"With regard to recent false rumors and innuendos being circulated in some press, BIF-USA does not desire to dignify them with a response. Our humanitarian work throughout the world is transparent and a matter of public record." --Media release


Care International Inc.

Boston, Mass.

Contributions 1998: $188,816 (last year available)

"We realize we're accountable for the money that comes to us. We're accountable to the donors and to God as well." --Suheil Laher, president


Global Relief Foundation

Bridgeview, Ill.

Contributions 2000: $5.2 million

"Global Relief Foundation has not and does not willingly or unwilling engage in any activity that ties to illegal acts such as terrorism." --Attorney Ashraf W. Nubani


Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development

Richardson, Texas

Contributions 2000: $13 million

"All this notion about the Holy Land Foundation and terrorism is politically motivated. It's an attempt to undermine American Muslims." --Shukri A. Baker, president


Islamic American Relief Agency USA

Columbia, Mo.

Contributions 2000: $2.8 million

"Despite the impeccable record of the integrity of IARA USA's work, the agency was unfairly made the target of suspicion even before the current wave of anti-Islamic paranoia that has followed the horrific events of Sept. 11." --Written statement


Islamic Association for Palestine

Palos Hills, Ill.

No Contributions. Not a charity.

"All these allegations are baseless. We don't have any relationship with [Hamas]--official or unoffical." --Rafeeq Jaber, IAP president


Islamic Center Tucson

Tucson, Az.

No Contributions. Not a charity.

"We are not connected to any of those terrorist people." --Omar Shahin, imam


Islamic Relief

Burbank, Calif.

Contributions 2000: $5 million

"There is nothing at all in our history or in our present operation that would cause concern." --Ahmad El-Bendary, the charity's president and chief executive officer

Source: IRS documents, state records, charity filings and staff interviews

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