updated 2/20/2006 12:13:37 AM ET 2006-02-20T05:13:37

The Treasury Department on Sunday ordered U.S. banks to freeze the assets of an Ohio-based group the government claims funnels money to the militant organization Hamas.

The organization, KindHearts of Toledo, Ohio, was connected with the Hamas-affiliated Holy Land Foundation and the al-Qaida-affiliated Global Relief Foundation, the Treasury Department said. The government took similar action against those groups in late 2001.

Under the government action, U.S. citizens are barred from doing business with KindHearts.

KindHearts describes itself on its Web site as a nonprofit charitable organization administering humanitarian aid to the world’s poor. In the past, its officials have denied being connected to any terrorist group or individual.

KindHearts board member and Cleveland lawyer Jihad Smaili reiterated that position on Sunday.

‘Unfounded and incredible’
“We are absolutely surprised and disappointed in the government’s action,” he said in a telephone interview. “This conduct by the government is going to be felt immediately by people who need KindHeart’s assistance all over the world and in the United States.”

He estimated the group provided $5 million to $6 million annually in charity assistance.

“This allegation that we support Hamas is unfounded and incredible,” he said.

Smaili added that his group understands the current political climate after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and is “hoping the government will play fair and play by the rules even though the rules are made by the government.”

Citing secrecy surrounding some aspects of investigations involving alleged terrorist connections, he said, “I hope they don’t use this unfair weapon against us and prevent us even knowing the reason they are doing this or the evidence they have.”

The government claims KindHearts officials have coordinated with Hamas leaders and made contributions to Hamas-affiliated organizations. The United States considers Hamas, now the most powerful political group in the Palestinian parliament, a terrorist group.

“KindHearts is the progeny of Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, which attempted to mask their support for terrorism behind the façade of charitable giving,” Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

A call to the KindHearts office in Toledo was answered by a man who identified himself as a federal officer. “We’re padlocking the office,” said the man, who did not give his name.

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