- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Potomac, Md., Islamic center maintains links to Iran despite its claims that it is independent of a foundation that is being sued by the U.S. government on charges of funneling money to the Islamic republic.

Ali Mohammadi, the current manager of the Islamic Education Center (IEC) of Maryland, told The Washington Times that the center’s only relationship to the Alavi Foundation is that of tenant to landlord. He quoted a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office as saying that forfeiture proceedings initiated earlier this month against the foundation - which also owns property in New York and other states - would not affect tenants of the foundation.

However, Mr. Mohammadi has served as the opening speaker for meetings between the Iranian-American community and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he comes to the U.N. General Assembly each September.

An Iranian-American who asked to be identified only by his first name, Ahmad, said the center is generally perceived as being sympathetic to the Islamic regime. He noted that Iran’s interest section, which is in a small office in upper Georgetown, held a party at the Potomac center celebrating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The interest section represents the Iranian government in the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Washington and Tehran.

On Nov. 12, federal prosecutors in New York filed a civil suit seeking forfeiture of the Alavi Foundation’s interests in a Manhattan skyscraper and other properties in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Texas and California.

U.S. officials say the foundation is a front for the Iranian government and that rental income goes to Iran’s Bank Melli, which is under U.S. sanctions for suspected links to Iran’s nuclear program.

The Iranian mission to the U.N. declined to comment on the lawsuit.

However, Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former adviser to Iranian nuclear negotiators, said the court action goes beyond U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran, undercuts legitimate charitable work and contradicts Obama administration efforts to engage the Islamic republic.

“Paying lip service to U.N. resolutions while showing a blatant disregard for the specific content of their scope and interplay of prohibited and allowed activities is, indeed, a hallmark of the U.S. action against the Alavi Foundation, whose constitutionally protected property rights as a legitimate charity organization with 30 years of charitable history, including generous grants to several Ivy League universities including Harvard University, are now imperiled, by a patently politically motivated civil suit that began in December 2008, during a vacuum of Washington leadership-in-transition,” Mr. Afrasiabi said.

The Islamic Education Center in Potomac, according to its Web site, was established in 1998 as a nonprofit institution whose mission is “to promote Islam through culture and belief.”

It holds classes and educational and cultural meetings and hosts a Muslim Community School that serves students in kindergarten through high school.

The Web site adds that a center by the same name was first established in 1981 and was run “directly by the Alavi Foundation” before the nonprofit was set up. The foundation took over properties previously owned by the Pahlavi Foundation after the 1979 Islamic revolution deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

Recent sermons at the IEC have been conducted by Sheik Abdul Jalil Issa, a Shi’ite scholar from Africa who studied in the Iranian Shi’ite theological center of Qom.

Sheik Issa has been filling in for the center’s regular imam, Ahmad Bahraini, who is said to be in Tehran for family reasons.

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