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Authorities Allege bin Laden Links to US Muslim Charity - 2002-03-29

U.S. officials say a Chicago-area Muslim charity can be linked to a convicted al-Qaida terrorist who was once an assistant to Osama bin Laden. The claim is made in documents filed against the Global Relief Foundation.

The federal government says Osama bin-Laden's former secretary, Wadih el Hage, had contact with Global Relief offices in Belgium and the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview in 1996 and 97, when he was working with the al-Qaida terrorist organization in Kenya. El Hage was sentenced to life in prison last year for his role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

The U.S. government made the allegation Wednesday in court documents filed to support its decision last December to freeze Global Relief's assets. The charity has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that its assets be unfrozen. The government says Global Relief has links to terrorist organizations.

U.S. officials are also asking federal judge Wayne Andersen to consider secret evidence against Global Relief. The judge has seen the evidence, but the charity's attorney Roger Simmons has not. "They acted under the Patriot Act and applied it in a way I do not think anyone ever contemplated the Patriot Act would be applied," he said.

Federal lawyers say under the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, signed into law last year, secret evidence is allowable in cases when foreigners threaten national security. Mr. Simmons says such evidence robs Global Relief of its right to due process under the law. "In the way the Patriot Act has been applied here, [the government] has taken it upon itself to determine who can actively operate as an American business, based on evidence they do not ever have to disclose or allegations they never have to make publicly," he said.

Judge Andersen says he will decide whether to consider the secret evidence by April 5, but expects a final decision on the matter will eventually be made by a higher court.

In its most recent filing with the court, the U.S. government says Global Relief was one of the few Islamic charities allowed by the Taleban to operate inside Afghanistan.

It says some materials distributed by the foundation glorify martyrdom through jihad. It also cited numerous contacts with Osama bin Laden's former secretary, Wadih el Hage.

Global Relief attorney Roger Simmons says the contacts with el Hage prove nothing, because he probably spoke to thousands of people in the mid-1990's. Mr. Simmons says Global Relief is a charity that raises money for peaceful purposes. He says these new documents filed with the court are a further attempt by the U.S. government to smear the charity's name.