Terror 'charity' Life for Relief and Development busted - directors Khalid Jassemm Multanna Alhanooti's homes raided
September 21, 2006
Counterterrorism agents of the FBI and IRS raided what is believed to be one of the biggest Muslim charities in the United States on Monday, hauling away a truckload of documents and computers from its Southfield office.
The raid was based on sealed search warrants, but the charity's head of legal services, Ihsan Alkhatib, said the agents are investigating whether the charity conducted business in Iraq before the 2003 war in violation of legal sanctions against the country.
Alkhatib said Life for Relief and Development "did everything by the book.
"They knew the government was looking at them through a magnifying glass," he said.
Tax records show that Life raised about $10.6 million in 2004. The charity has distributed money in Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and in the United States after Hurricane Katrina, among other places. A senior federal official with knowledge of investigations related to the raid said that agents are probing whether Life officials violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a federal law that allows the government to prohibit economic activity with countries that are deemed security threats.
According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agents are investigating whether Life may have illegally distributed money and medical supplies inside Iraq.
Agents of the FBI and IRS seized cabinet files and hard drives from the office of Life, a nonprofit group that Muslim leaders say is the biggest Islamic charity headquartered in Michigan.
Southfield police and Michigan State Police officers were also at the scene Monday.
Federal agents also raided the Ypsilanti home of the charity's chief executive officer, Khalil Jassemm, and the Dearborn office of Muthanna Alhanooti, a former official of the charity who has ties to an Islamic party in Iraq.
No one was arrested.
The agents were from the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and they spent hours interviewing Jassemm, as well as Life's office manager, Kudama Kaluan, accountant Nael Zenhom, and marketing manager Mohammed Abaza, Alkhatib said.
The raids are part of a major effort by the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate the flow of money from the United States to terrorist groups in the Muslim world, current and former FBI agents said Monday.
"It's logical to assume that many Islamic terrorist organizations have representation here in the U.S., and sources of funding," said Christopher Hamilton, a former FBI agent who investigated terrorism cases and is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, based in Washington, D.C.
Many of the efforts of counterterrorism officials in southeastern Michigan focus on how money from the region ends up in Middle Eastern and other Muslim countries such as Iran and Pakistan.
Earlier this year, the Treasury Department shut a charity based in Toledo, with Michigan ties, for alleged links to Hamas.
And the FBI said in May that the owner of the La Shish chain of restaurants, Talal Chahine, raised money for Hizballah through a charity in Lebanon that has an office in Dearborn.
Last month, Alhanooti left Life for Relief and Development to consider being the U.S. representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party.
Another Life official, Mohammed Alomari, was involved with Sunni political parties in Iraq, say charity officials.
Founded in 1992, the charity was started by Iraqi-American Sunnis who said they were concerned about the plight of Iraqis and the effect of United Nations sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, according to charity officials.
Life officials have traveled to Iraq often over the years and had an office that distributed aid after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003, say charity officials.
Coming days before the start of Ramadan, the raids concerned some Muslims in metro Detroit, but some said they were not surprised.
"The community was expecting to give Ramadan gifts, but we're wondering, who's next" to be raided, Jassemm said. "And apparently, Life is next."
The raids were based on several search warrants that dealt with possible violations of criminal laws, said FBI spokeswoman Dawn Clenney. Affidavits filed in support of the warrants have been sealed.
Life for Relief and Development is actively involved in metro Detroit's Arab-American and Muslim communities. It is part of the Congress of Arab American Organizations.
And the Life group has worked with and donated supplies to the Michigan branch of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
The head of the committee, Imad Hamad, urged the public not to rush to judgment.
But federal agents say they worry whether the group may have violated federal laws.
The group can still operate, but Alkhatib said that will be hard to do because they have no computers and hard drives.
Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or [email protected].
FBI raid on Missouri Muslim leader linked to Michigan case
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A Muslim leader and Iraq war opponent whose home was raided by the FBI says the agents told him they were interested in his links to a Michigan charity that also was searched.
Shakir Abdul-Kaf Hamoodi, a former University of Missouri-Columbia engineering professor who now owns a grocery store here, said Tuesday that agents were interested in his connection to the Southfield, Mich., Muslim organization Life for Relief and Development.
An FBI spokesman declined to reveal the reasons for the search. Hamoodi, who was provided a copy of the sealed search warrant, declined a request by The Associated Press to review the document.
A dozen agents arrived Monday at the Columbia home of Hamoodi and his wife, Lamya Mukhlef Najem, and removed boxes and computer equipment throughout the day.
Hamoodi said he was in Detroit on Monday but not working for the relief agency. When he asked agents if the search could wait until he returned to Missouri, they said no, citing the simultaneous search in Michigan, he said.
Hamoodi said he cooperated with federal investigators.
"They came in, asked questions, I told them the answers and they left," he told the Columbia Missourian. Hamoodi declined to specify what questions he was asked.
Hamoodi said he has worked as a paid organizer and fundraiser for the organization for several years. Though he travels throughout the country on its behalf, Hamoodi said he has not gone abroad with the organization.
The charity's head of legal services told the Detroit Free Press that the FBI wanted to find out whether the charity broke U.S. sanctions by doing business in Iraq before the war.
Hamoodi, 54, grew up in Anah, a town in central Iraq, and lived in Scotland and France before moving to Columbia 21 years ago. He earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia before working as an assistant research professor for the school's College of Engineering.
Hamoodi now owns the World Harvest market, and his wife teaches at an Islamic school in Columbia. He has made several appearances in opposition to the war in Iraq, and the couple's home was recently defaced with graffiti.
Hamoodi said he plans to continue speaking out against the war. The father of five children _ ages 9 to 19 and all born in Columbia _ also offered a heartfelt plea to his friends, customers and neighbors.
"I want to assure them that at no time, under any circumstances, do they need to expect any harm from me and my family members to this country," he said. "I have done nothing wrong."
On Tuesday afternoon, a steady stream of customers appeared at Hamoodi's store to offer their support. Many more called and showed up unannounced at his home Monday night, he said.
The search of Hamoodi's home came three days after a community meeting at which local Muslims raised concerns about racial profiling and an October 2004 FBI raid of the Islamic American Relief Agency's U.S. headquarters in Columbia.
Hamoodi, who attended the meeting, said the search warrant was dated Sept. 12 _ meaning FBI agents knew about the impending raid even as they vowed to work with the Muslim community.
"What they did (Monday) has really nullified everything they did Friday," he said.
The U.S. Treasury Department has linked the Islamic American Relief Agency to the Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency, which they say has ties to Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaida and Hamas. No one has been charged in that case.