Muslim Anger Burns Over Lingering Probe of Charities
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
More than four years ago, federal agents swarmed into homes and businesses in Herndon and elsewhere in Northern Virginia, carting away 500 boxes of documents they believed contained evidence of an international terrorism financing network.
The raids, which targeted some of the most established Islamic organizations in the United States, caused an immediate firestorm in the Muslim community.
So far, the March 2002 searches have led to the convictions of two people, including prominent Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, who admitted in federal court that he plotted with Libya to assassinate the Saudi ruler.
But no charges have been filed against the principals of the Herndon-based cluster of companies and charities that are at the center of the investigation, and Muslims say the raids were no more than a fishing expedition.
"They are still trying to prove that they weren't wrong in the first place,'' said Nancy Luque, an attorney for the Herndon charities. "You storm into people's homes, take their children's toys, terrorize the women, and 4 1/2 years later, you haven't got a scintilla of evidence against any of them.''
Yet, a grand jury investigation is proceeding in Alexandria, and at least one high-profile witness has recently been called to testify. Law enforcement officials insist that the so-called Herndon charities investigation is still moving forward, with agents and prosecutors immersed in tracing what they say is a Byzantine trail of transactions between corporations and related charitable entities here and overseas. The investigation is focused on a Herndon-based network of Muslim charities, businesses and think tanks.
Federal prosecutors have strongly defended the raids, saying during a 2004 court hearing that they would file charges against some or all of the Herndon-based network, possibly under racketeering statutes once used to target the Mafia. Prosecutors declined to comment last week. Law enforcement sources said they still expect further prosecutions, but they would not comment on timing or the nature of the possible charges. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the case's sensitivity.
Although the specifics of the investigation remain unclear, prosecutors are now seeking the testimony of a potentially key witness. Last week, the attorney for Sami al-Arian -- a former Florida professor who was acquitted in one of the nation's highest-profile terrorism cases but then pleaded guilty to a single charge -- said he had been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Alexandria.
The lawyer, Linda Moreno, said prosecutors want to ask Arian about his ties to the International Institute of Islamic Thought, or IIIT, one of the key Herndon organizations under investigation.
The primary reason the investigation has taken nearly half a decade, according to court documents and interviews, is the complexity of trying to trace the elaborate money trail.
"Such a massive ream of documents came out of those search warrants,'' one law enforcement official said in an interview last year. "It takes incredibly lengthy investigative work.''
During the 2002 raids, federal agents fanned out to more than 15 sites in Falls Church, in Leesburg and in Fairfax County, including Herndon. They spent 12 hours alone at IIIT -- an Islamic think tank set up in Herndon in the early 1980s -- where they seized about 25 computers and documents that included financial records, mailing lists and staff lists.