Thursday, September 21, 2006

Community Leaders Urge Support for Islamic Charity

September 21, 2006
By Niraj Warikoo
Free Press Staff Writer

Arab-American and Muslim leaders urged the public to support an Islamic charity based in Southfield that was raided Monday by federal agents. Speaking at a press conference today at the headquarters of Life for Relief and Development, they said that the charity was still open and accepting donations. "We will urge our community to make a point by donating to Life," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which has worked with Life officials before. "Donations to Life are not illegal."

While the charity is still open, Life CEO Dr. Khalil Jassemm said Thursday it is hard to operate because federal agents hauled away six computer servers that contained its electronic data.The raid, conducted by agents with the FBI and IRS, came just days before the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims donate money to help the needy. Charity officials said they usually raise more than two million dollars during the month, which starts this weekend. Hamad and others said that there appears to be a pattern of federal officials targeting Muslim donors or charities around the Ramadan season.

Jassemm said that in 2004, the Islamic American Relief Agency, in Missouri, was searched by federal agents near the start of Ramadan. And in 2005, Muslim donors in the Flint area who give a lot of money to Life, Islamic Relief, and Mercy USA, were questioned by federal agents, Jassemm said. Robert Beeckman, a Special Agent in the Detroit FBI office, said the agency does not target anyone based on their religion. "Whenever possible, we take people's religious sensibilities into account," he said. "But the timing of the execution of search warrants is based solely on the evidence, and it is not intended to coincide with any religious holiday."

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he hopes that Life, "like any group or individual targeted by law enforcement, receives all the due process rights guaranteed by Constitution."

In July, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the public in a news release to donate supplies to Life for people in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories affected by the conflict. The charity has distributed more than $50 million since it was established in 1992 by a group of Iraqi-Americans...(MORE)

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