U.S. Muslim Groups Cleared

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Senate Finance Committee has wrapped up a high-profile investigation into U.S. Muslim organizations and terrorism financing, saying it discovered nothing alarming enough to warrant new laws or other measures, officials said.

The inquiry, which took nearly two years, was highly unusual in that the committee pored through private financial information held by the government. The panel had asked the Internal Revenue Service for the financial records and donor lists of two dozen Muslim charities, think tanks and other organizations. Nine were based in the D.C. area.

"We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law-enforcement agencies are already doing," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman, said in a statement this week.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has frozen millions of dollars in assets allegedly linked to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups and shut down some of the biggest U.S.-based Islamic charities. In launching their inquiry in December 2003, Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the committee's ranking Democrat, expressed concern about "the crucial role that charities and foundations play in terror financing."

Some Muslims, however, protested that the Senate investigation unfairly cast a cloud over many groups.

"It was really just a fishing expedition," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "They didn't catch any fish."

The investigation extended to a broad swath of Muslim organizations nationwide. They included a few charities whose assets have been frozen, such as the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation, which was designated in 2002 as a terrorist-financing entity by the Treasury Department.

Some of the groups, though, included many moderates. In September, Karen Hughes, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, attended the annual convention of one organization included in the investigation, the Islamic Society of North America.

Steven Emerson, a private terrorism investigator, was dismissive of the Senate inquiry, saying the committee never had the staff or expertise to do a complex terrorism-finance probe. "If they're looking for a smoking gun on a tax return, they're not going to find it," he said.

Beth Levine, a spokeswoman for Grassley, said the committee's staff was limited to investigating tax records rather than launching a broader investigation. She said the committee wanted to "understand the nature of reality on the ground -- to know something about what is going on before trying to legislate about it."

The panel determined no new laws were needed at this point, she said. No report will be issued, she added, because the probe involved confidential tax information.

Representatives of several Muslim groups that were investigated expressed relief about the result.

"We're very pleased but not surprised, as there's never been any funding of anything remotely related to terrorist activities," said Nancy Luque, an attorney for Muslim charities and institutes clustered around the Herndon area.

Wendell Belew, an attorney for a Muslim charity association, said, "We're very pleased that their examination uncovered no problems on the part of our members." His group includes two Falls Church nonprofits: the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Muslim World League.

Several of the organizations targeted in the inquiry remain under investigation by the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security. Some have closed down, either because of government actions or because donations have dried up.

The other nonprofits in the D.C. area that were examined in the investigation were the International Islamic Relief Organization, the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, the Islamic Foundation of North America, the United Association for Studies, and Research and Solidarity USA.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company