"We found ourselves trying to rebut newspaper reports from around the world," Simmons said.
Not until Simmons had read the 9/11 commission's terrorist financing report in late August did he get a glimpse of the government's classified evidence: various internal FBI documents predating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Global Relief attorney Roger Simmons, surrounded by government evidence and correspondence related to the charity's closure, said, "We found ourselves trying to rebut newspaper reports from around the world."
(Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
_____The World After 9/11 Series_____
U.S. Unprepared Despite Progress, Experts Say (The Washington Post, Nov 8, 2004)
Va.-Based, U.S.-Financed Arabic Channel Finds Its Voice (The Washington Post, Oct 15, 2004)
Moroccans Gain Prominence in Terror Groups (The Washington Post, Oct 14, 2004)
From a Virtual Shadow, Messages of Terror (The Washington Post, Oct 2, 2004)
Facing New Realities as Islamic Americans (The Washington Post, Sep 12, 2004)
In Search Of Friends Among The Foes (The Washington Post, Sep 11, 2004)
U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities (The Washington Post, Aug 19, 2004)
Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
One memo from 2000 said that "although the majority of GRF funding goes toward legitimate relief operations, a significant percentage is diverted to fund extremist causes." The FBI agents had been unable to substantiate this, however. "The money trail generally stopped at the U.S. border, and the agents could never trace it directly to jihadists or terrorists," the monograph said.
The report also disclosed that U.S. intelligence agencies had records of phone calls between the director of the Global Relief's branch in Belgium and Wadih el-Hage, bin Laden's personal secretary who was convicted for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Simmons provided Treasury with an affidavit from the director in question, Nabil Sayadi, who stated he had talked to el-Hage a number of times between 1995 and 1997. The reason, he said, was that el-Hage wanted Global Relief to fund a malaria eradication project in Kenya and a scheme to import sesame seeds from Sudan. Sayadi said he rejected both ideas.
In the end, the report's authors, who were given access to Treasury's internal documents supporting the designation, agonized over the dilemma posed by the charities: "There may not have been a smoking gun proving that these entities funded terrorism, but the evidence of their links to terrorists and jihadists is significant."
But in conclusion, the report asked whether the destruction of Global Relief and Benevolence had been worth the price: "Did it enhance the security of the United States or was it a feckless act that violated civil rights with no real gain in security?"
The Chechnya Connection
Three months after it froze Global Relief's assets, Treasury targeted a Saudi government-supported charity, al Haramain Islamic Foundation. It operated in 50 countries, providing health care and welfare assistance, and proselytizing for Wahhabism, the kingdom's strict Islamic official creed.
In March 2002, Treasury designated al Haramain offices in Somalia and Bosnia as financiers for terrorists, and prevailed upon the Saudis and local governments to close them, presenting the Saudis with U.S. intelligence on the charity's "ties to terrorism," the Sept. 11 monograph stated.
One by one, al Haramain's branches in Africa, Asia and European were designated and closed. The assets of the branch office in Ashland, Ore., were frozen in February.
Al Haramain's Washington lawyer, Lynne Bernabei, asked Treasury for the evidence against her client. She said she received mainly articles from newspapers and policy journals.
Treasury also sent the affidavit of an IRS agent who outlined how he had tracked hundreds of thousands of dollars moved by the charity's Saudi treasurer, Soliman Albuthi. The agent said Albuthi had failed to declare $130,000 in traveler's checks when he traveled from the United States to Saudi Arabia in March 2000.
The agent concluded that the money was destined for Chechen rebels battling Russia.
In reply, Bernabei submitted Saudi and Russian documents showing that Albuthi had deposited the money with the charity's headquarters in Riyadh. The funds were used to finance aid to Chechen refugees, an act that had been officially approved by both Saudi Arabia and Russia, according to documents provided by Bernabei.
Bernabei was in the process of delivering the documents to Treasury on Sept. 9 when Treasury designated Albuthi and al Haramain's Oregon office -- nine months after the initial freeze.
For the first time, Bernabei learned that the U.S. government believed there were "direct links" between the Oregon office and bin Laden. The Treasury statement said U.S. intelligence showed donations to Chechen refugees "were diverted to support mujahideen as well as Chechen leaders affiliated with the al Qaeda network."
In an e-mail sent from his home in Riyadh, Albuthi denied supporting terrorists. "I just bring the money from US to fundraiser in SA and I got a receipt from the cashier with notice that this is for our Muslim brothers and sisters in Chechnya," he wrote.
Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.