Muslim chaplain's group investigated
An international Muslim charity group, whose regional office is located in Falls Church, Va., and headed by AU's Muslim chaplain, is under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee for alleged ties to Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group.
In a letter Dec. 22, 2003, the Senate Finance Committee asked the Internal Revenue Service for confidential tax and financial records relating to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), along with 24 other organizations currently under suspicion for having links to terrorist groups.
According to the organization's most recent 990 tax-exempt form, AU's Muslim chaplain, Fadel Soliman, is the current director.
"We are a charitable organization." Soliman said of WAMY. "We have links to people who work with charity, that's it. I believe they will not find anything. That's why I wish them good luck. We are really fed up ... we are wasting our time investigating innocent people."
Soliman said he enjoys his work with WAMY, and while he "doesn't know" why the committee is currently investigating WAMY, he said that many Muslim organizations after 9-11 have come under scrutiny.
Soliman, a native of Egypt, came to the United States three years ago and has been employed by WAMY for the same amount of time. He has been the volunteer Muslim chaplain at AU for two years, he said, before students approached him about the position.
The WAMY investigation by the Senate Finance Committee is using its "rare and unusually broad use" of power to access private records, The Washington Post reported.
"Their reputations as charities and foundations often allows them to escape scrutiny, making it easier to avoid scrutiny," said the committee's letter, which was released on Jan. 14. "Often these groups are nothing more than shell companies for the same small group of people, moving funds from one charity to the next charity to hide the trail."
Financial records, applications for tax-exempt status, audit materials and results of criminal investigations are among the list of materials that will be examined.
According to the BBC, WAMY was expelled from Pakistan and India. Those countries claim that WAMY was funding a group linked to attacks in Kashmir. The Philippines' military has also accused WAMY of funding Muslim insurgency.
The D.C. WAMY offices, which have jurisdiction over the organization's North American operations, were incorporated by Osama bin Laden's brother, Abdullah bin Laden, in 1992, said Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project and the author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us," during the third public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in July.
When asked, Soliman said that he did not know Abdullah bin Laden and that he came to the United States three years ago, one year after Abdullah had fled.
"He was a nephew," Soliman said in a later interview, contradicting the U.S. government's 9-11 commission report that Abdullah was the brother of Osama bin Laden. "We cannot criminalize everyone carrying his name."
WAMY is listed as one of the six main charities involved in al-Qaeda financing in terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard's report to the United Nations in 2002, "Terrorism Financing: Roots and Trends of Saudi Terrorism Financing."
All six organizations, which also include Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, International Islamic Relief Organization, Rabita Trust and Muslim World League, are currently being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee.
The organization's Web site, www.WAMY-USA.org, maintains that its vision is to "create a better understanding of Islam," as well as "oppose terrorism and violence as means of solving disputes and encourage peaceful dialogue, mediation and arbitration."
It is the world's largest Muslim youth organization, sponsoring 44 schools in nine countries and more than 24,000 orphans worldwide, as well as many camps across the nation.
While WAMY's headquarters are located in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Soliman said it is not a Saudi institution. He described WAMY as an international organization, as most of WAMY's budget comes from donations. Last year Saudi Arabia gave WAMY a grant of $1.5 million, which is less than 9 percent of the WAMY budget, he said.
Soliman said that the 21 members of WAMY's board of trustees are from many countries, and Saudis, Americans, Egyptians and Canadians are among the nationalities represented.
In an open letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft and Treasury Secretary John Snow on Sept. 17, 2003, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote that WAMY has hosted fundraisers where senior Hamas leader Khalid Mishal praised Saudi officials for funding Hamas through civilian and popular channels despite American pressure.
It also said that WAMY "spends $2.7 million annually in support of the Palestinian intifada in addition to $70 million it has collected for this purpose as WAMY offices worldwide."
When asked what he thought about the content of this article, Soliman said the press was very misleading.
"It is really trying to damage innocent people," Soliman said. "A lot of what Americans read about Muslims and Islam is very misleading. It's damaged their relationship with Muslims and the Muslim world"