IN MICHIGAN:
2 Islamic groups decry terror links 

Complaint was sent to Internal Revenue Service

Detroit Free Press

September 25, 2001

BY L.L. BRASIER, MARYANNE GEORGE AND DAVID ZEMAN
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

Two Islamic organizations with offices in Michigan said Monday they have been falsely accused of being front groups for terrorism by a special-interest group with a conservative agenda.

The Indiana-based Muslim Arab Youth Association in North America (MAYA), which has an office in Southfield, and the Texas-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), with a branch in Lathrup Village, showed up on a list of 16 charities that Judicial Watch alleges are part of a "terror financial network likely linked" to Osama bin Laden.

The groups denied the allegations.

Neither group is on the list of 27 organizations and individuals with alleged ties to terrorists whose assets the government said Monday it wants to freeze.

But last week, Judicial Watch, which identifies itself as a public-interest law firm based in Washington, named the groups in a complaint it sent to the Internal Revenue Service demanding an investigation.

Judicial Watch, which has filed dozens of suits against government agencies and represented Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers in actions against President Bill Clinton, said it based its list on published accounts linking the groups to terrorist activity.

The Free Press asked for the accounts referring to CAIR and MAYA and was faxed published reports on Monday. The only reference to CAIR is from a Pittsburgh newspaper report that quotes a freelance journalist as saying the group is a front for Hamas, a militant anti-Israel group. National Islamic leaders are quoted refuting that characterization. Two references from other accounts refer to MAYA as a sponsor of Islamic conferences.

Tom Fitton, a spokesman for Judicial Watch, said the allegations against CAIR also are based on confidential sources he declined to disclose.

Members of the local branches were angered by the accusations and said they are considering a defamation lawsuit against Judicial Watch.

"It is very unfair," said lawyer Shereef Akeel of Huntington Woods, who represents both groups. "You can't say things like this that are untruthful.

"The Muslim Arab Youth Association is a group for kids. They've built a fine reputation in this country and in Canada. For 14 years, they have been providing social and cultural activities for students and their families. They work toward harmony and unity, and for these types of accusations to be made is just wrong."

Haaris Ahmad, local director of CAIR, said, "It's become part of the whole witch-hunt.

"Our whole focus has been on improving relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims, of fostering goodwill for Islam. That's our whole thing. We have no international connections. And we barely have enough money to meet our goals. What we have, we're not giving away."

CAIR, with a staff of two in Michigan, provides seminars in schools and for community groups to educate people about Islam, Ahmad said. It also produces brochures for schools, hospitals and law enforcement so that their staffs are better prepared to deal with Muslim citizens.

In Detroit, an IRS spokeswoman said the agency was aware of the Judicial Watch complaint, but declined to say whether it would result in audits.

"We believe there may be some charities out there that are funneling money," said Sarah Wreford of the IRS. "Whether they are on that list, we don't know."

Meanwhile, in the Ann Arbor area, the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) also has come under scrutiny because the name of its president, Mohammed Alahmari, is on a list of people the FBI said last week it wanted to question in connection with the terrorist attacks.

Alahmari, 42, told the Free Press last week in an interview at his Ypsilanti Township office that he called the FBI in Detroit and was told he should not have been on the list. FBI Special Agent Dawn Clenney has repeatedly declined to comment.

IANA is not on the list of 27 organizations or people whose assets are being targeted by the federal government.

Alahmari said IANA is a nonprofit group set up to disseminate information about Islam and has no links to terrorist groups.

"Our work is to guide people as Muslims," Alahmari said. "We do not condone terrorism, we don't fund terrorism and we do not support Osama bin Laden."

Alahmari said the group hosts two conferences a year, publishes and distributes books, runs Web sites and offers counseling and financial assistance to Muslims. He said the group has five full-time staff members.

Alahmari said revenues -- listed in federal tax documents as more than $498,000 in 1999 and $207,000 in 2000 -- are raised through personal donations, book sales and conferences. The group reported expenses of $291,170 in 1999 and $369,183 in 2000.

Alahmari, who lives in Ann Arbor, declined to disclose details of his personal life.

Records show IANA was incorporated in Colorado in 1993, and Colorado continues to be its corporate home, though it also is registered in Michigan.

In incorporation papers, IANA says funds are to go "exclusively for Islamic charitable, educational, or religious purposes," in keeping with its federal nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

But some funds, the group says, are to "be distributed to one or more of its affiliated organizations" that share its tax-exempt status. Presumably, that includes IANA Corp., the group's trade name, and the Waqf Foundation in Ann Arbor, which IANA says raises money that will "be invested in real estate and other ventures."

And New York-based Help the Needy, another assumed name of the corporation, according to Michigan records, raises money for food and medicine.

Ayman Jarwan, office manager for Help the Needy, said Monday the group recently separated itself from IANA and relocated to Syracuse, N.Y. He described the group as a nonprofit charity that helps needy people in the United States and abroad.

Jarwan declined to say how much money the group raises each year. He said half of the revenue is sent to needy people in Iraq for items such as food, clothing and medicine.

Jarwan also denied having links to terrorist groups.

Contact L.L. BRASIER at 248-858-2262 or brasier@freepress.com, MARYANNE GEORGE at 734-665-5600 or mageorge@freepress.com or DAVID ZEMAN at 313-222-6600 or zeman@freepress.com.

 

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