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Published: Wednesday, 3/1/2006

Muslim charities targeted, group says

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An American Muslim coalition is seeking to meet with Treasury Secretary John Snow to discuss the padlocking of the Toledo-based charity, KindHearts, and "the continued targeting of Muslim charities without due process of law."

Federal agents, using the power of an executive order, closed KindHearts' West Toledo headquarters on Feb. 19 and froze its assets while authorities investigate the Muslim charity for alleged support of Hamas terrorists in the Middle East.

The funds, which KindHearts said were more than $1 million, were frozen "to prevent asset flight" while the federal investigation is under way, according to Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Yesterday, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, a Washington-based coalition of Muslim organizations, sent a letter to Secretary Snow about KindHearts, which technically is "blocked" and not closed, and the permanent closures of three U.S. Muslim charities that were shut down after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington.

Islamic law requires Muslims to donate to charity and places restrictions on how the funds are to be distributed, steps that usually are not met by secular American charities, Muslim leaders say.

"The closures ... have im-paired the ability of American Muslims to carry out their religious obligation to help the needy in this country and overseas," AMT said in its letter to Secretary Snow.

While AMT officials "support our government's efforts to thwart terrorist financing, we find it unfair that our government has yet made another extrajudicial decision to effectively wipe out more than five years of humanitarian assistance to the world's needy by the mere stroke of a pen."

"What happened to due process laws," Jihad Smaili of KindHearts asked last night. "Corporations have rights just as individuals do under our Constitution. It's clear that you should at least ask a question or two before you shoot."

He said the government is "making our options very, very limited for giving to charity. It's really not helping the Muslim and Arab-American communities to embrace our new home, which is the United States of America."

KindHearts officials claim the closing of the Toledo office and the freezing of funds were politically motivated because the U.S. government was displeased with the Hamas party's legislative victory in the Palestinian territories in January.

Mr. Smaili said last night that Secretary Snow should "grant the request and sit down and talk. Hopefully we can get some answers."

Molly Millerwise, a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department, said last night that she has no comment on AMT's request to meet with Secretary Snow.

But she said Treasury officials have worked closely with charities, including Muslim charities, to draft voluntary guidelines creating "transparency" in how charities operate.

She said the guidelines were revised in 2005 based on input from the charities.

As for freezing funds while an investigation is being conducted, she said they're very aware of the balancing act "and want to ensure that money flows to charitable causes. However, if any money, even a small portion, goes to a terrorist organization, then that is something we have to ensure does not happen."

The government's use of an executive order to "block" a charity is typically used to keep the assets of a U.S.-based charity from going overseas, Ms. Millerwise said.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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