- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

DETROIT (AP) — Before last week, AbuSayed Mahfuz didn’t hesitate to donate to Life for Relief and Development, an international Muslim humanitarian organization that is active in Iraq and Afghanistan and has partnered with the U.S. government.

But an FBI search of the organization’s Southfield headquarters is making the Hamtramck resident think twice about future contributions.

Just as the holy month Ramadan, which began Saturday, has many Muslims thinking about their religious obligation to give alms, the investigation of the prominent aid group has prompted fears that giving to charity could bring scrutiny from the government.

FBI agents assigned to a terrorism task force last week searched Life’s offices, taking computer servers, donor records and other financial documents. They also have searched the homes of the charity’s chief executive, an ex-employee and two board members.

“After hearing this, I don’t feel secure at all,” said Mr. Mahfuz, a computer consultant and editor of a Bangladeshi community newspaper. He said he would still consider supporting the organization, but the investigation would force him to weigh that decision carefully.

No charges have been brought in the case, and Life has sought to reassure the community that it is legal to donate money to the organization, which was founded in 1992 by Iraqi immigrants.

It is not the first time a Muslim charity has come under investigation. In the months after September 11, 2001, the government froze the assets of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation and Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation and Benevolence International, effectively shutting them down. The government has accused those groups of funding terrorists.

The search at Life’s offices five days before the start of Ramadan, the month when Life gets about half of its donations, prompted anger among Muslim activists in the Detroit area. They questioned the timing and the involvement of the terrorism task force, which they said led to press reports that drew unfair conclusions.

On Wednesday, Arab-American and Muslim leaders vented that anger at a previously scheduled meeting with law-enforcement officials in Dearborn — home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans, many of whom are Muslim.

Daniel Roberts, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit field office, said he could not comment on the case because the matter is sealed. But he said agents were acutely aware of the approaching holy month and would have preferred to conduct the search earlier.

“I would just ask that you give the government the benefit of the doubt,” he said at the meeting.

Mr. Roberts declined a request by some in attendance to issue a statement reassuring Muslims that they could still donate to the organization.

Khalil Jassemm, the charity’s chief executive, said FBI agents focused on three things: possible sanctions violations stemming from the group’s work in Iraq before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, improper involvement in Iraqi politics and use of funds for purposes other than those designated by donors.

Ihsan Alkhatib, Life’s legal director, said the FBI has told the charity it can continue operating, at least for now.

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