- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

A task force of federal agents has ratcheted up a two-year-old antiterrorism investigation aimed at several Virginia-based Islamic charities suspected of diverting millions of dollars to terror network al Qaeda and other militant radicals.

Led by agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI, the task-force probe has targeted a number of people tied to several private companies and interrelated Islamic charities operating out of business fronts in Herndon and Falls Church.

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A key focus of the wide-ranging investigation, according to federal law enforcement authorities, is Soliman S. Biheiri, an Egyptian national being held on federal immigration charges. He also has been named by the Justice Department as a material witness in ongoing government terrorism investigations.

Mr. Biheiri operated the now-defunct Secaucus, N.J., firm BMI Inc. and was identified last week in an affidavit by ICE agent David Kane, who said investigators had focused on the “financial relationship between” BMI and a Herndon corporation known as Sana-Bell Inc. The agency also is looking into two Islamic charities, the Muslim World League (MWL) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), both of Falls Church.

The investigation, according to the affidavit, has focused on “a group of individuals” suspected of providing material support to terrorists and of money laundering and income-tax evasion through use of related for-profit companies and ostensibly charitable entities under their control.

BMI has been linked by federal authorities to the diversion of millions of dollars in money transfers to suspected terrorist organizations including al Qaeda. Investigators are trying to determine whether the Virginia-based charities illegally diverted as much as $4 million to BMI, cash that eventually was used to fund terrorist activities, authorities said.

In the affidavit, Mr. Kane said the MWL and the IIRO operated in separate Falls Church offices but under a umbrella. He said the CIA listed the IIRO as having “extremist connections,” including with the Palestinian group Hamas, Algerian radicals and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, the Egyptian terrorist organization that served as a precursor to al Qaeda.

Mr. Kane said the CIA report linked the IIRO to Osama bin Laden as well as convicted terrorist Ramzi Yousef, who was sentenced to life in prison for masterminding the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. He said the organization helped fund six terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.

According to the affidavit, the IIRO is believed to have transferred money to bank accounts in London and Amman, Jordan, where it was diverted to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

He said the money was routed through various front organizations, including the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the largest Muslim charity in the country, with offices in Texas, California, New Jersey and Illinois.

Federal law enforcement officials told The Washington Times that the MWL initially was funded by bin Laden and later by the Saudi government, and that Sana-Bell Inc. was established to generate funds for IIRO operations.

The officials said several MWL employees are believed to have worked with al Qaeda, and that key bin Laden associates had infiltrated the organization’s offices worldwide. They also said Sana-Bell Inc. was part of a global effort to manage the IIRO’s financial assets through an international endowment fund known as the Sanabil al-Khair.

According to the Kane affidavit, Mr. Biheiri formed BMI in March 1986 as Bait ul-Mal Inc., and it operated as an investment bank with customers in this country and abroad investing in real estate and construction projects in New Jersey, Boston and Washington.

“My investigation demonstrates that BMI and its affiliates may have transferred funds to or for terrorists,” Mr. Kane wrote.

Last year, federal agents raided 14 Islamic businesses in Virginia, seizing two dozen computers and hundreds of bank statements and other documents in an “Operation Green Quest” investigation.

In those raids, investigators also focused on several Islamic charities, a network purportedly controlled by the Saar Foundation, an organization created by Suleiman Abdul Al-Aziz al-Rajhi, a member of one of Saudi Arabia’s richest families.

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