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U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities

Suspected Ties to Terrorism

A trader in hides, livestock and incense, Mohamed regularly visited Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. During one of his trips, he said, he was recruited by the kingdom's religious authorities in Mecca after being questioned about his knowledge of the Koran. In Somalia, preaching became a sideline for him, he said.

In 1989, Mohamed was jailed and tortured by the Somali military, which suspected him of involvement with the political opposition, according to statements Mohamed later made on his immigration documents. The following year, as Somalia degenerated into civil war, he was freed and fled to Canada. Five years later, he made his way to San Diego.


Since the Sept. 11 attacks, a number of Saudi-supported Islamic mosques -- such as the King Fahd Mosque -- have been under scrutiny. (Damian Dovarganes -- AP)

_____Correction_____
An Aug. 19 article on Saudi religious influence in the United States incorrectly reported that Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz is the son of King Fahd and joined with the king in donating $8 million to build the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Calif. The donation with the king was made by his son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd.


_____Audio Analysis_____
David Ottaway David Ottaway, a Washington Post investigative reporter, explains Saudi-financed missionaries and possible ties to terrorist groups.
_____More From Series_____
Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
About This Series

Nearly three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has begun extensive efforts to root out Islamic terrorists around the world and defend potential targets at home. This article is the second in a series that will look at the nature of the elusive enemy and the problems authorities confront in finding and bringing terrorists to justice and protecting the United States. The first article dealt with the threat of truck bombs.

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He had been recruited by a San Diego mosque to teach the Koran and Arabic to Somali children, he said later. He entered the United States on a religious worker's visa and received legal permanent resident status. The U.S. government would later say he never worked at the mosque that sponsored his visa.

Instead, Mohamed founded a small Koranic "school," actually just one room inside a shabby two-story Somali civic center in a section of City Heights nicknamed "Little Mogadishu," after Somalia's capital. Mohamed also worked part time as a social counselor for Somali children at a public school, which paid him $1,000 a month.

In 1997, Mohamed set up his charity, the Western Somali Relief Agency, to send money to Somalis facing famine in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. Over the next four years, the agency received $326,000 from the Global Relief Foundation, court documents show.

In April 2000, Mohamed applied for U.S. citizenship. He had an interview with U.S. immigration officials in May 2002. By then, the Sept. 11 attacks had made U.S. officials wary of any Muslims applying for citizenship. Mohamed's background was checked, and the immigration officers asked him pointed questions about his relief agency and the money that had circulated through it, court documents show.

He did not tell them initially that he was being paid by the Saudis or that he had received money from Global Relief and al Haramain, the records show.

In January, he was called in for a second interview. Afterward, he was arrested and charged with making multiple false statements.

"You've received funding well over $200,000 from Global Relief," said Steve Schultz, an immigration officer, according to a transcript of Mohamed's interview. "They were shut down because they were providing aid to terrorism. Okay, we think you're involved in that."

In October 2002, the Treasury Department designated Global Relief, based in Bridgeview, Ill., a terrorist-linked organization because it "has provided assistance to Osama Bin Laden, the al Qaeda Network and other known terrorist groups," a Treasury news release stated.

Rabih Haddad, the co-founder of Global Relief, had belonged to an organization that was a precursor to al Qaeda. Charity officials had also had multiple contacts with the Taliban government in Afghanistan and bin Laden's personal secretary, who was convicted of participating in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Treasury Department release stated that photographs found in a trash bin outside Global Relief's office in Illinois depicted armed fighters and a shipment of sophisticated communications equipment worth $120,000. Videotapes stocked by Global Relief glorified armed jihad. "God equated martyrdom through JIHAD with supplying funds for the JIHAD effort," a 1995 Global Relief Foundation pamphlet stated. "All contributions should be mailed to: GRF."

U.S. investigators have been unable to track all of the money Mohamed received from Global Relief. The bulk of it went in checks written to Dahab Shil, an informal money transmitter in Chicago known among Muslims as a hawala. The 65 checks to Dahab Shil range from $370 to $60,000, according to court documents.

Mohamed said the money went to various local charities and tribal chiefs in the Ethiopian Ogaden. Transcripts of his interviews show U.S. officials suspect that some of it went to Al Ittihad Al Islamiya, the Somali terrorist group that the head of al Haramain has also been accused of dealing with.

During an interview in May at the federal prison in Otay Mesa, 15 miles south of San Diego, Mohamed insisted he was not a Wahhabi extremist, just a Muslim. He denied ever having contacts with Al Ittihad. With the loss of his $1,700 monthly stipend, his wife and six children live on a monthly welfare check of $1,178.

Research editor Margot Williams and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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