Chicago Tribune: U.S. says local man sent cash to Iraq

Palos Heights resident in Islamic charity case

A Palos Heights man appeared Thursday in federal court in Chicago after he and four other men were indicted on charges of financial crimes involving an Islamic charity they once operated.

Abdel Azim El-Siddiq, 50, of the 12200 block of South 69th Avenue, appeared before Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan facing three counts of money laundering, one count of forfeiture and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering for the Islamic American Relief Agency–the IARA.

Charged along with El-Siddiq are Mubarak Hamed, 50, of Columbia, Mo., IARA’s former executive director and a naturalized U.S. citizen from Sudan; Ali Mohamed Bagegni, 53, of Iowa City, Iowa, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Libya and former member of the agency’s board of directors; Ahmad Mustafa, 54, of Columbia, Mo., an Iraqi citizen and former fundraiser for IARA; and Khalid Al-Sudanee, 55, a Jordanian who served as regional director for the agency’s office in Jordan.

All were arrested Wednesday except Al-Sudanee, who was being sought in Jordan, said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, which will prosecute the case.

IARA was an offshoot of an agency by the same name based in Khartoum, Sudan, officials said. The U.S. agency, formed in 1985, was shuttered in October 2004 after the Treasury Department deemed it a global terrorist organization.

Prosecutors allege that from March 1991 to May 2003 the defendants, through the IARA, funneled more that $1.4 million in charitable contributions to Iraq, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions against the country. The indictment does not detail how the funds were spent.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations in Chicago, said Thursday: “Since 9/11, we have witnessed a McCarthyesque witch hunt against Muslims in this country generally, and Islamic charities specifically. In this case, no accusations of supporting terrorism have even been made.

“With hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of taxpayer dollars lost on a misguided war in Iraq, the timing and positioning of this superfluous campaign raises plenty of questions. If prosecuting charity-givers is our government’s idea of homeland security, time and again, then we are all in trouble.”

The indictment also accused the defendants of bilking the U.S. Agency for International Development–USAID–out of nearly $85,000 that was to be spent on humanitarian projects in Mali, Africa. Instead, they allegedly laundered approximately $50,000 in USAID funds to lobby the federal government to remove the agency from a list of organizations suspected of terrorist involvement. A number of defendants also face charges of obstructing or impeding the Internal Revenue Service.

In addition, the indictment alleges the IARA lied when it denied ever employing the now-deceased agent for al-Qaeda, Ziyad Khaleel, who helped procure satellite phones that Osama bin Laden used to direct the terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in East Africa.

In court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Joe Alesia said El-Siddiq faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted and a fine of $500,000.

Prosecutors told Nolan they believe El-Siddiq poses a flight risk, and a detention hearing was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Monday. He was being held in federal custody pending the hearing.

At El-Siddiq’s home Thursday afternoon, a teenage girl who identified herself as his daughter declined to comment on the charges.


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