Federal Appeals Court Supports Searches of N.Va. Muslim Groups, Homes

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

An appeals court yesterday upheld the legality of federal raids on a Herndon-based network of Muslim charities, businesses and think tanks, a case that caused a firestorm in the Muslim community.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the March 2002 raids on homes and business in Herndon and elsewhere in Northern Virginia were "a harrowing experience" for the targets but did not violate their constitutional rights. The court said agents exercised "lawful force" in drawing their guns and handcuffing a family whose home was searched.

Federal agents carted away hundreds of boxes of documents during the searches from some of the most established Islamic organizations in the United States. They were looking for evidence of an international network to finance terrorism, part of what federal officials have called the nation's largest terrorism-financing investigation.

Muslim leaders denounced the raids as violations of their civil rights and have strongly denied terrorist ties. A Herndon family sued federal agents involved in the raids, asserting that the agents had fabricated evidence to obtain a search warrant, falsely imprisoned family members by restraining them in their home and violated their civil rights.

A federal judge in Alexandria dismissed the lawsuit in 2007, and a three-judge 4th Circuit panel upheld that dismissal yesterday.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, said prosecutors are pleased with the ruling. An attorney for Iqbal and Aysha Unus, who filed the lawsuit along with their teenage daughter, declined to comment.

The raids have led to several indictments and the conviction of prominent Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, who admitted that he plotted with Libya to assassinate the ruler of Saudi Arabia. No charges have been filed against the Herndon-based cluster of companies and charities that are at the center of the investigation, and their attorneys and some Muslims have long labeled the raids a fishing expedition.

Sami al-Arian, a former Florida professor who earlier pleaded guilty to aiding a terror organization, is now charged with refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in the Herndon probe. A federal judge has not ruled on a defense motion to dismiss those charges.

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