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5 accused of illegally funneling money to Iraq

Five associates of a Missouri-based Islamic charity were indicted on charges that they illegally sent money to Iraq, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Four associates of a Missouri-based Islamic charity and a fifth man in the Middle East were indicted on charges that they illegally sent money to Iraq, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Wednesday.

The five men are charged in a 33-count indictment that alleges they stole government and public money and falsely represented their fundraising goals to the public. Four are associated with the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA, based in Columbia, Mo. The fifth is associated with Islamic African Relief Agency, a Sudanese group suspected of financing al-Qaida.

The federal government alleges the American agency evolved from the African agency, a claim the charity has denied.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment Tuesday charging the men with illegally transferring $1.4 million to Iraq from March 1991 to May 2003, a period when Iraq was under various sanctions by the United States and United Nations.

The indictment does not say how the money was spent, but it alleges the money transfers violated the sanctions, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Bradley J. Schlozman.

Federal agents raided the group’s headquarters in 2004 as part of a criminal investigation, and the charity’s assets were later frozen.

Shereef Akeel, a Michigan lawyer representing the charity, said the group denies any wrongdoing or involvement in terrorism. The charges are serious, but they have a different tone from two years ago, when the group was accused of being a terrorist organization, Akeel said.

“Now we’re talking tax code violations and the Sanctions Act,” he said. “Maybe that’s Plan B. Plan A they couldn’t find anything.”

The men indicted were identified as Mubarak Hamed, 50, of Columbia, executive director of the agency; Ali Mohamed Bagegni, 53, of Iowa City, Iowa, a former board member; Ahmad Mustafa, 54, of Columbia, a former fundraiser; Abdel Azim El-Siddiq, 50, Palos Heights, Ill., a former agency vice president; and Khalid Al-Sudanee, 55, of Jordan, the regional director of the Middle East office for the Islamic African Relief Agency.

Two suspects at large
A federal appeals court in Washington ruled last month there was a link between the Islamic American Relief Agency-USA and the Islamic African Relief Agency, which the Columbia-based group has denied.

Three of the five men were in custody Wednesday, Schlozman said. Mustafa, Hamed and Bagegni were arrested Wednesday. El-Siddiq was expected to be arrested later Wednesday in Illinois. Al-Sudanee was being sought in Jordan.

The indictment alleges that on 11 separate occasions the charity, Hamed, Bagegni and Al-Sudanee transferred funds from the United States to Iraq through Amman, Jordan.

The indictment also alleges that “a person acting on behalf of IARA” lied in a 2001 television interview about the group’s affiliation with Ziyad Khaleel, a procurement agent of Osama bin Laden.

The unnamed person said Khaleel, who the government said helped al-Qaida obtain satellite phones used to coordinate attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa, had never been an employee of IARA. Khaleel has since died.