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INS Holds President of Charity Suspected of Ties to Al Qaeda
The president of a Chicago-based Islamic charity remained in INS custody Monday and two Iraqi-born members of the group overseas were being detained as part of a widening investigation into the group's possible ties to terrorists.
But Roger Simmons, the charity's lawyer, said he believed that last week's global raids were mistakenly sparked by a flier the charity's workers in Yugoslavia faxed to relief workers in Belgium, warning of possible terrorist attacks.
"In these times of horrible events, innocent communications can get miscommunicated and misread," Simmons said. He said that the flier had been distributed anonymously throughout Kosovo, and that Global Relief Fund workers sent it to their colleagues in Belgium as a precaution.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday froze the assets of Global Relief and another Chicago-based charity, Benevolence International Foundation, saying the groups were suspected of having ties to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. Meanwhile, NATO officers raided Global Relief's offices in Yugoslavia, where two workers were detained. Another raid took place at Global Relief's office in Albania.
But a U.S. government official said Monday that the agency did not yet have enough evidence to prove that either group was funneling money to Al Qaeda.
"There was coordinated action to block the assets because the groups are suspected of funding terrorist activities," said Treasury Department spokeswoman Tasia Scolinas.
The charities raised $8.5 million last year, sending most of it overseas, where it purportedly was used for humanitarian relief, tax records show.
Simmons said he doubted that the government's investigation would go anywhere. "I don't think they have any evidence."
Benevolence officials could not be reached for comment. The group's outside accountant said the charity's top official, Enaam Arnaout, was out of the country.
Global Relief's president, Rabih Haddad, has been in Immigration and Naturalization Service custody since Friday for overstaying his tourist visa, Simmons said. Haddad, who is from Lebanon and lived in Ann Arbor, Mich., believed he had filed the proper paperwork to remain in the United States legally, Simmons said.
Simmons said he had been unable to determine the whereabouts of two of the charity's workers who were detained in Yugoslavia. Abdul Al-Raziq Theb, a doctor from Iraq, and Ahmed Hameed Said, another charity official, were taken for questioning by NATO and United Nations officials after Friday's raid.
A spokesman for KFOR, the NATO-backed peacekeeping force in Kosovo, has said that the men were suspected of "having organized and supported international terrorism."
A news report in Albania on Saturday said Iraqi-born Global Relief workers there had also been questioned by intelligence officials in a "top-secret operation."
Simmons confirmed Monday that the charity's offices in Albania had been searched and its officers interviewed, but he said the men were released with an "apology."
He said it was an outrage that U.S. officials classified the justification for the search warrants it used to raid the charity's offices and homes of charity officials. He said agents took computers, software and documents, including computer games played by one of the official's young daughters.
"They opened up the presents they got for Ramadan and searched them," Simmons said.
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Times staff writer Chuck Neubauer contributed to this report.