Federal agents yesterday shut down and searched an Islamic school in Fairfax County that is affiliated with a Saudi Arabian university and has been investigated by the Senate for links to terrorism.
Agents from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swarmed over the premises of the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America, at 8500 Hilltop Road in Merrifield, at about 10:30 a.m., according to a witness.
FBI and ICE spokesmen said the search warrant was sealed in court and declined to disclose the nature of the search.
A lawyer who arrived on the scene and spoke with law-enforcement agents said authorities interviewed institute staffers individually until mid-afternoon but did not detain anyone.
Arsalan Iftikhar, director of legal affairs for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, talked with federal agents after an institute staffer called him and requested that he come.
“We were called by somebody at the institute to make sure that people’s due-process rights are respected … that everything was legal,” Mr. Iftikhar said.
He said his conversation with law-enforcement agents was “cordial.”
A law-enforcement source said the raid might have been linked to Jaafar Idris, one of 16 persons from the institute deported from the United States in January.
Mr. Idris is a Sudanese national who held Saudi diplomatic credentials and had an office at the Saudi embassy. He lectured at the institute and espoused Wahhabism, the source said.
The law-enforcement source said Mr. Idris was president of American Open University in Alexandria and helped found the Islamic Foundation of America in Springfield, which a federal law-enforcement official said operated a school, a mosque and a prison-outreach program.
The foundation’s Virginia office was visited by well-known Islamic extremists — including Sirhaj Wirhaj, a New York imam who was an unindicted conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, according to the source.
No one at the institute answered its phone yesterday.
Founded in 1989, the institute is affiliated with al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is a nonprofit group that offers free courses in Islamic studies and in Arabic.
A law-enforcement source said the institute trained lay chaplains for the U.S. military.
Its Web site, www.iiasa.org, states that the group’s aim is to teach “Islam in the best way peacefully and moderately.” By early afternoon yesterday, the Web site was no longer accessible.
The institute condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as “vicious and cowardly,” and the Web site states that “there is no such thing as the ‘Wahhabi’ teachings of Islam.”
Wahhabism is a fundamentalist movement of Islam founded by theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 1700s. Terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden reportedly is a follower of Wahhabism, which seeks to return all Muslims to a “purified” practice of their religious beliefs.
The institute has come under scrutiny by the federal government recently.
In January, it was one of two dozen Muslim groups — including Mr. Idris’ Islamic Foundation of America — whose tax and financial records were requested by the Internal Revenue Service and by the Senate Finance Committee, which was looking for links to terrorist groups. The Senate investigation is ongoing, a law-enforcement source said.
Later that month, 16 persons who had been accredited to the Saudi embassy in Washington were found to be working instead at the institute and were asked by the State Department to leave the country, according to United Press International.
Mr. Idris was one of those 16 persons.
At that time, the deputy chief of the Saudi diplomatic mission, Ambassador Ahmad bin Abdulaziz Kattan, told UPI that the institute was “established for teaching the Arabic language ‘as well as for preaching the Islamic religion in America.’”