An alleged terror fundraising ring sent money to an al-Qaida supporter
WASHINGTON -- A former congressman and delegate to the United Nations was indicted Wednesday on charges of working for an alleged terrorist fundraising ring that sent more than $130,000 to an al-Qaida supporter who has threatened U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan.
Mark Deli Siljander, a Michigan Republican when he was in the House, was charged with money laundering, conspiracy and obstructing justice for allegedly lying about being hired to lobby senators on behalf of an Islamic charity that authorities said was secretly sending funds to terrorists.
The 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., accuses the Islamic American Relief Agency of paying Siljander $50,000 for the lobbying -- money that turned out to be stolen from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The charges paint "a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payments for his advocacy," assistant attorney general Kenneth Wainstein said.
Siljander, who served in the House from 1981 to 1987, was appointed by President Reagan to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations for one year in 1987.
Calls to Silander's business in a Washington suburb went unanswered Wednesday. His attorney in Kansas City, James R. Hobbs, said Siljander would plead not guilty to the charges against him.
"Mark Siljander vehemently denies the allegations in the indictment," Hobbs said in a statement. He described Siljander as "internationally recognized for his good faith attempts to bridge the gap between Christian and Muslim communities worldwide" and plugged the ex-congressman's upcoming book on that topic.
The charges are part of a long-running case against the charity, which had been based in Columbia, Mo., before it was designated in 2004 by the Treasury Department as a suspected fundraiser for terrorists. The indictment alleges that IARA also employed a fundraising aide to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
IARA has long denied allegations that it has financed terrorists. The group's attorney, Shereef Akeel of Troy, Mich., rejected the charges outlined in Wednesday's indictment.
"For four years I have not seen a single piece of a document that shows anyone did anything wrong," Akeel said.
The government accuses IARA of sending approximately $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaida and the Taliban. The Justice Department said Hekmatyar "has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan."
Siljander was elected to Congress initially with the support of fundamentalist Christian groups, and said at the time he won because "God wanted me in." In 1983, he claimed that "Arab terrorists" planned to kill him during a pro-Jewish rally; the FBI and Secret Service said they knew of no such plot. Siljander attended the rally wearing a bulletproof vest.
After leaving the government, he founded the Washington-area consulting group Global Strategies Inc. and, according to the indictment, was hired by IARA in March 2004 to lobby the Senate Finance Committee to remove the charity from the panel's list of suspected terror fundraisers.
It's not clear whether Siljander ever engaged in the lobbying push, said John Wood, U.S. attorney in Kansas City. Nevertheless, IARA paid Siljander with money that was part of U.S. government funding awarded to the charity years earlier for relief work it promised to perform in Africa, the indictment says.
In interviews with the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander denied doing any lobbying for IARA. The money, he told investigators, was merely a donation from IARA to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity, the indictment says.
In 2004, the FBI raided the IARA's USA headquarters and the homes of people affiliated with the group nationwide. Since then, the 20-year-old charity has been unable to raise money and its assets have been frozen.
The charity has argued that it is a separate organization from the Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida. A federal appeals court in Washington ruled in February that the two groups were linked.
In all, Siljander, IARA and five of its officers were charged with various counts of theft, money laundering, aiding terrorists and conspiracy.
"By bringing this case in the middle of America, we seek to make it harder for terrorists to do business halfway around the globe," Wood said.
Associated Press writers Margaret Stafford and Maria Sudekum Fisher in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this report.