- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

An affiliate of a Saudi-based Islamic group said to have ties to al Qaeda continues to operate with tax-exempt status in Oregon while many of its international offices have been shuttered.

The Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, located in Ashland, Ore., near the state’s southern border, continues to operate despite promises from Saudi officials last year to close all of the group’s affiliate offices.

Al-Haramain has closed its branches in Croatia, Albania and Ethiopia, and is moving to close its offices in Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia and Pakistan, according to a statement from the Saudi Embassy.

Its Somalia and Bosnia offices were shuttered last year at the demand of the United States, which said the group was tied to al Qaeda.

A lawyer for the foundation said that the Oregon group does accept money from its Riyadh-based main office and is independently run, with no ties to terrorism.

“This is a separately incorporated group which is loosely affiliated with the Saudi group,” said attorney Lynne Bernabei, who is based in Washington. “We have no idea what is going on in Saudi Arabia, because this is a completely separate group.”

She said her clients are being lumped with terrorist groups when “all they are doing is reaching out to people who want to learn about Islam.”

Miss Bernabei is defending the group in a $1 trillion lawsuit filed by more than 4,000 people who were injured or lost relatives in the September 11 attacks.

A federal judge last summer refused to dismiss Al-Haramain from the lawsuit but rejected claims that the foundation was negligent in failing to track how its charitable funds were used.

Saudi officials here blamed the continued operation of the Oregon group on lax law enforcement.

“We’ve closed down the ones that we promised to,” said Nail Al-Jubeir, director of information for the Saudi Embassy. “In fact, we ordered those in our country closed immediately. It makes no sense that they would have an operation in this country. If they are operating here in the U.S., why hasn’t this country shut them down?”

Representatives from the Justice Department, which has closed several Muslim organizations for raising money that it says was used to fund terrorism, did not return calls.

In July, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee discussed the danger of Al-Haramain during hearings, but was not aware of the Oregon affiliate.

“The committee’s investigation encompasses all Saudi-related terrorist financing organizations,” said Andrea Hofelich, a spokeswoman for the committee. “To the extent that we can develop reliable information on this matter, it will become part of our investigation.”

With prayer houses in Ashland and Springfield, Mo., the Oregon group claimed to have $663,000 in assets in tax year 2001, the last year records were available. During the past several years, Al-Haramain has received donations from individuals of more than $150,000, including gifts of $271,740 and $149,985 in 2000.

The tax forms blocked out the names of the donors, as permitted under federal law.

The international Web site for Al-Haramain recently was taken off-line, but the U.S. group is still holding services and accepting donations.

“They are still in operation,” said Tom Wilcox, who has prepared the group’s taxes for the past several years.

Mr. Wilcox said he was provided with the group’s 2002 tax information this summer, completed the tax form and was paid recently for his work.

The Al-Haramain Web site had provided bank account numbers for donors to send funds to Alrajhi Banking and Investment Corp., one of the largest financial institutions in Saudi Arabia.

Also on the Web site were the foundation’s goals, which include, “Confronting ideological and atheistic invasion” and “calling non-Muslims to Islam and propagating it among them.”

In 1999, Al-Haramain cited a budget of $245,388 a month, with offices in seven countries that held 18 Islamic centers worldwide with 4,881 students.

Al-Haramain was listed, with 27 different spellings and variations of its name, in a presidential order in 2001 that allowed the United States to block the resources of individuals and institutions determined to be involved in possible terrorist acts. The group was banned from Kenya after being connected to the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy there.

According to a report in May by the Al Jazeera news network, “Al-Haramain raises almost $30 million a year in donations for charity work across the world.”

The Sunday Times of London reported in November that the CIA had linked Al-Haramain to the nightclub bombing in Bali that killed 202 persons.

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