Thursday, November 20, 2008

George Mason University is expanding its Islamic studies program with a $1.5 million grant from a Northern Virginia-based think thank still operating under the cloud of a six-year federal terrorism investigation.

University spokesman Dan Walsch said the school wants to expand its Islamic studies, including using the money to have a chairman for the department and to “gain a better understanding of Islam’s role in the world.”

He also said school officials have had no direct contact with the government regarding the investigation into the Herndon-based International Institute for Islamic Thought and their understanding is the investigation is “dormant.”

The FBI told The Washington Times only that it cannot comment on past or ongoing investigations.

The IIIT’s Northern Virginia center was among 14 homes and offices raided by federal agencies in March 2002 in an attempt to disrupt domestic financing for global terrorism. The raids - known as Operation Green Quest - resulted in 21 search warrants, 12 arrests, four indictments and the seizure of about $10.3 million smuggled into the United States, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Iqbal Unus, a spokesperson for the IIIT, founded in 1981, said he was not aware the investigation remains open. “I’m sure they have done due diligence,” he said. “They have lawyers and some very smart people there and they found there is no reason to be concerned.”

The group’s federal tax filing for 2005, the most recent available, shows the majority of its income that year, $2.85 million, came from gifts, grants and contributions.

George Mason accepted the money Nov. 3 after Temple University decided in January against the offer. School officials were aware of Temple University’s decision, Mr. Walsch said.

“After much discussion and consideration, Temple decided to neither accept nor reject this generous offer,” said Temple spokesman Ray Betzner. “The university indicated that no decision regarding this matter would be made until the post-September 11 federal investigations [of the group] are complete.”

The group was suspected to be a major funding source for University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian’s World and Islam Studies Institute. Al-Arian pleaded guilty in 2006 to providing services to terrorist groups and is now serving 57 months in federal prison.

John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor, says the government has resisted charging the group because it was heavily subsidized by the United States while Afghanistan was fighting the Soviet Union.

“I hear lots of talk that they get the light touch because they were on the payroll for more than a decade,” said Mr. Loftus, now president of the Intelligence Summit group, which provides information to countries fighting terrorism.

James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute, said the criticisms against the group are largely unfounded and that there should be no issue with George Mason accepting the money. “If they had been found guilty of any wrongdoing, charges would have been brought,” he said. “A contribution from a group like this with no strings attached should not be a problem.”

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