Group accused of aiding terrorists focus of FBI interviews

Sunday, October 17, 2004

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An investigation of a Missouri-based group accused of aiding terrorists has involved almost half the FBI's domestic field offices, a spokesman said.

The FBI office in Kansas City asked 26 of the bureau's 56 field offices to interview from 80 to 90 people as part of the investigation into the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA, FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said Friday.

The group issued a statement Friday saying it would not accept donations and urging its patrons to contribute to other charities.

Lanza said the interviews took place Wednesday, the same day that search warrants were served at the charity's headquarters in Columbia, Mo. and the Wolcott, Conn., home of an Islamic leader.

Majeed Sharif, president of the United Muslim Mosque in Waterbury, Conn., has acknowledged doing work for the charity.

Magdy Galal, the mosque's vice president, told reporters Friday that Sharif's efforts were entirely humanitarian. He had made several visits to Africa to help feed the poor and build wells for drinking water, he said.

The Bush administration has accused the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency of helping raise more than $5 million to finance Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

The Treasury Department directed U.S. banks to block any assets found in this country belonging to the Islamic African Relief Agency and five designated officials. The department said the group, headquartered in Khartoum, Sudan, has more than 40 offices worldwide, including one in Columbia.

Lanza would not elaborate on the interviews the agents are conducting but said the number of interviews reflects a broad investigation.

"To have an office of origin like Kansas City involve almost half the field offices, I would describe that as unusual," Lanza said.

In a message posted on the group's Web site, the IARA on Friday described the situation as "unfortunate" and asked its patrons to contribute to other causes. Group officials have consistently declined interview requests since Wednesday's raid.

Also Friday, an alliance that represents more than 160 U.S.-based relief agencies suspended the group's membership after reviewing the sanctions imposed by the Treasury Department.

The sanctions make it illegal for anyone to provide financial, material or technological support to any person or organization designated under an executive order signed by President Bush just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The alliance, InterAction, provides its members with such support services.


Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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