Washington Post - January 14, 2004
Muslim Groups' IRS Files Sought
Hill Panel Probing Alleged Terror Ties
By Dan Eggen and John Mintz
The Senate Finance Committee has asked the Internal Revenue Service to turn over confidential tax and financial records, including donor lists, on dozens of Muslim charities and foundations as part of a widening congressional investigation into alleged ties between tax-exempt organizations and terrorist groups, according to documents and officials.
The request marks a rare and unusually broad use of the Finance Committee's power to obtain private financial records held by the government. It raises the possibility that contributions to charities such as the Holy Land Foundation or the activities of such groups as the Muslim Student Association could be subjected to Senate scrutiny.
The Senate-led probe follows more than two years of investigations by the FBI, the Treasury Department and other federal agencies into the activities of Islamic charities suspected of having ties to al Qaeda; the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas; and other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. The United States has frozen more than $136 million in assets allegedly linked to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups and has effectively shut down the operations of the largest U.S.-based Islamic charities.
"The Muslim community would view this as another fishing expedition solely targeting Muslims in America," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington. "Are they now going to start a witch hunt of all the donors of these now closed relief organizations, so that Muslims feel they're going to be targeted once more based on their charitable giving?"
Roger C. Simmons, a Frederick, Md., lawyer who represents the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation, whose assets have been frozen by the government, said: "This kind of blanket request would further chill the tendency for American Muslims to give money. As far as the organizations themselves, I'm not sure what else they can do to them that they haven't already done."
The foundations and charities named by the committee in its request include many that remain targets of ongoing investigations by U.S. authorities. Among them are the SAAR Foundation and its affiliated entities, a defunct network of organizations based in Northern Virginia; Global Relief, whose founder was deported to Lebanon; and the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the United States, which was singled out by President Bush for allegedly supporting Hamas. Its assets have been frozen.
Other groups on the list include the Muslim World League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth and the Islamic Society of North America.
The latest probe stems from recent Finance Committee hearings on fundraising and financing by radical Islamic groups and will be focused on whether the organizations on the list deserve their tax-exempt status, committee staffers said.