The bombshell revelation on Wednesday that the Obama administration funded an al-Qaeda group in Sudan ten years after it was designated a foreign terrorist organization merely scratched the surface of what the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) stands accused of.
For a full account of the group that received $325,000 in U.S. taxpayer money in 2014 and 2015, we must turn to the U.S. Treasury Department documents Team Obama apparently did not bother to read.
The ISRA was designated a financial supporter of terrorism by the Treasury Department in October 2004, under the authority of an executive order issued by President George W. Bush shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
President Bush declared a national emergency to deal with the “unusual and extraordinary threat” of terrorism, with special attention paid to the networks that funneled money to operations such as Osama bin Laden’s murderous al-Qaeda crew. Attacking terrorist financial networks was a key element of U.S. strategy after the atrocity of September 11.
The ISRA was part of bin Laden’s financial network, as the Treasury Department made clear ten years before the Obama administration decided to provide the group with U.S. taxpayer money:
Information available to the U.S. indicates that international offices of IARA provided direct financial support for UBL. IARA, MK and UBL commingled funds and cooperated closely in the raising and expenditure of funds. IARA engaged in a joint program with an institute controlled by UBL that was involved in providing assistance to Taliban fighters.
In 2000, one of IARA’s Afghanistan leaders accompanied the Afghanistan MK leader on a fundraising trip to Sudan and other locations in the Middle East during which $5 million was raised for MK activities.
Information available to the U.S. shows that the overseas branches IARA provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to UBL in 1999. In 1997, there was an individual who acted as a liaison between UBL and terrorist-related NGOs, distributing funds from UBL to MK, IARA and others. Later that year, IARA and MK reportedly provided financial support for a group of Arab terrorists planning to travel to Saudi Arabia to conduct unspecified operations against U.S. military personnel.
Additionally, information identifies a UBL lieutenant and former MK official as having been the director of IARA’s operations in Afghanistan. This individual was identified as an expert in terrorism, bomb planning and guerilla operations.
Information indicates an IARA leader was involved in discussions to help relocate UBL to secure safe harbor for him. Among others, these discussions included representatives for UBL and MK, along with Lajnat al-Dawa (LDI), which is listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist pursuant to E.O. 13224, as well as listed by the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee. In addition, a Sudanese individual traveled to Mali and stayed with an IARA director while assessing whether Mali could serve as a safe harbor for UBL.
“UBL” is Osama bin Laden, whose first name was often spelled “Usama” in those days.
“MK” is Makhtab al-Khidamat, a precursor organization to al-Qaeda founded by bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, who also co-founded Hamas. MK was a prime mover behind recruiting extremist fighters to help the Taliban take over Afghanistan. Azzam was killed in a mosque bombing in 1989. His death has been cited as the event that put al-Qaeda decisively in bin Laden’s hands and set the terrorist gang on the path to 9/11.
Hamas was another group supported by IARA, according to the Treasury Department. The group was “responsible for moving funds to the Palestinian territories for use in terrorist activities, notably serving as a conduit to Hamas in one Western European country.” IARA obtained these funds using collection boxes labeled “Allah” and “Israel,” a very lightly coded means of letting donors know their money would be used to murder Jews.
Shortly before IARA was sanctioned by the Treasury Department, it was linked to the Al-Aqsa Foundation in Belgium. The Al-Aqsa Foundation was designated a financial supporter of terrorism by the U.S. Treasury Department in May 2003. It was considered a “vital source of funding” for Hamas and a “critical part of Hamas’ transnational terrorist support infrastructure.”
The i24 report published on Wednesday mentioned that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Obama inexplicably failed to check whether IARA was listed as a banned terrorist-funding organization. The primary grantee, an evangelical charity called Word Vision, did run a cursory check and claimed to find no listing for the “Islamic Relief” agency, but the database of banned terrorism financiers does in fact list IARA under its American branch IARA-USA, which has an office in Missouri.
The Treasury Department noted that IARA-USA was founded in 1985 under the name “Islamic African Relief Agency, United States Affiliate” and changed its name to “Islamic American Relief Agency” in 1999.
Under that name, the Islamic American Relief Agency was shut down by the Treasury Department in 2004 and indicted in 2008 for transferring money collected in the United States to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
IARA-USA pled guilty to these charges in July 2016, revealing a money-laundering operation that stretched back to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and included Taliban big shot Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as described by the Associated Press:
As part of the plea, IARA admitted it secretly funneled $1.375 million in cash or merchandise to Iraq in violation of United States economic sanctions dating to 1990.
The original indictment alleged the charity sent about $130,000 to help Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom the United States has designated as a global terrorist. The money, sent to bank accounts in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004, was masked as donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
Authorities described Hekmatyar as an Afghan mujahedeen leader who has participated in and supported terrorist acts by al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
If Hekmatyar’s name sounds familiar, it is because he is the Afghan warlord and al-Qaeda ally who wrangled a pardon for all of his crimes from the government in Kabul, reinvented himself as a mainstream political figure, and now sells himself as the only man who can unite Afghanistan by legitimizing the Taliban – although his actual activities mostly consist of destabilizing the government with protest theatrics. In his terrorist salad days, he was a big fan of suicide bomb attacks on American troops and civilians. He might end up on the Afghan presidential ballot in 2019.
This was hardly a low-profile case that could have been easily overlooked by the Obama administration in 2014, because in 2012 former Republican congressman Mark Deli Siljander of Michigan was sentenced to a year in prison for lobbying to get IARA’s terrorist designation lifted, failing to register properly as a foreign agent, and lying to the FBI.
Siljander took a payment of $75,000 from the “charity” to lobby on its behalf, $50,000 of it drawn from unused grant money that was supposed to be returned to USAID after grants to IARA were terminated in 1999.
And yet, the Obama administration gave this group another $200,000 in USAID grants in 2014, and then another $125,000 in 2015 even after it was explicitly pointed out to Administration officials that the IARA was a banned financier of terrorism with a history of abusing U.S. grant money.
A few lessons can be learned from the IARA saga: terrorist support groups love to change their names and choose similar names to confuse investigators; they have a penchant for attaching themselves to more legitimate charities; they sink deep roots into Muslim communities in the West to raise money and develop “Islamophobia” defenses when they are criticized; and President Bush was absolutely correct to put a high priority on disrupting global terrorist financing. Yesterday’s terrorist is today’s Washington-funded charity case, and maybe tomorrow’s president of Afghanistan.