News

Interview with Louay Safi and Louise Shelley - 2002-03-27

MS. SMITH:
Last week, Federal agents from the U.S. Customs Service raided offices in the Washington area of some Islamic organizations, as well as private homes. The raids were part of an ongoing investigation into possible links to a private financial empire that allegedly supports radical groups. As we mentioned earlier in our program, many American Muslims are dismayed and outraged. They claim there is no justification for what was done and say the raid was just a fishing expedition.

With us today is Dr. Louay Safi, Director of Research for the International Institute of Islamic Thought. It's a 20-year-old organization, I believe, that was among those raided last week. It serves as a think tank in the field of Islamic culture and knowledge. Welcome, Dr. Safi.

MR. SAFI:
Thank you.

MS. SMITH:
And your version, can you tell us what happened?

MR. SAFI:
On Wednesday, our offices were raided by a team of Federal agents, led by the Customs Service of the Treasury Department. And I was in my office. They asked me to step out. I stepped out. I asked what was going on, what was happening. They said they have a search warrant. I said, let me see it. They said, we can't show it to you immediately; we have to secure the premises. And then we were asked to move to a conference room. We have about 20 staff members. And it took us about two hours to be able to see the search warrant and to find out what was the raid about.

MS. SMITH:
You were caught off guard and very surprised, I take it?

MR. SAFI:
I was surprised. And I was, later on, after reading the search warrant, which was based on a sealed affidavit, I was shocked. And I felt really that now the campaign on terror is heading in the wrong direction.

MS. SMITH:
Did they give you any more detail of the purpose of the raid, what their motivations were for doing this?

MR. SAFI:
The search warrant talked about probable cause of aiding terrorist organizations overseas, but we were not shown the affidavit. We don't know what kind of allegations were brought against those organizations. And we were shocked because, really, we have maintained a very good relationship with Federal agencies and departments. We were about to have a program that was designed by the State Department. We were participating in it. And so it was really very shocking to us to see that our organization and 14 other Muslim organizations have become now the subject or target of investigations on terrorism.

MS. SMITH:
Is it possible that some of the money that is involved in your organization could have perhaps been well intended to go toward charitable groups, well-meaning groups, and then somehow, from there, you might have lost control of it and it might have gone to another organization that you might not support? Is that possible?

MR. SAFI:
Some of those organizations that were raided are research organizations. In fact, one of them is the Fiqh Council. This is the highest religious organization for Muslim Americans. It provides religious opinion that guides Muslims as to how they can live Islamically in the United States. So these are very respected organizations.

One of them is the Graduate School for Islamic and Social Sciences that trains chaplains for the Army and the Navy. So these are not shadow organizations that have been raided; these are very respected.

We have communication with Federal agencies. We have been invited to the State Department and to the White House. And so we are not really people who can be suspected or can be treated this way. We feel, and the Muslim community feels, really outraged that our best organizations have become targets, have been already tarnished by this kind of behavior. And we hope and we feel, I myself believe, this is some sort of isolated instance, somebody in the Treasury Department figured it out wrong, and they didn't consult enough with other organizations and other Federal agencies, and ended up raiding our offices.

MS. SMITH:
We also want to talk to another guest who is with us today, Dr. Louise Shelley, the head of the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, which is at American University here in Washington. Perhaps you can help us understand some of the background behind this. We, of course, asked representatives from the U.S. Customs Service to join us in this discussion. They declined, citing the legality of the investigation. Can you tell us, based on your expertise, what you think was the motivation behind this?

MS. SHELLEY:
The motivation behind these investigations is as you have been talking about. It is to find if there is money being diverted from charitable organizations to support terrorist activity. And it is not the first time that we have had organizations in the United States, religious organizations, investigated for money laundering. And not necessarily Islamic organizations. We have had other organizations in the United States that have been investigated. Sometimes people are willing; sometimes it has been unwilling activity. So it is not something that is totally new. I know of investigations and indictments as long as eight years ago.

What is different in this case is the number of organizations and the lack of knowledge, and sometimes the force that was used in entering the premises. And that is a concern of human rights issues and it is a concern also in some of the areas where I think many of the investigators are not very knowledgeable about the Islamic world.

One of the problems we have had in this war on terrorism is that we have taken all kinds of people who are not trained in terrorism, who don't have much historical or geographic knowledge, and have put them on these investigations. And so I am sure that mistakes are going to be made because some people are just not equipped to do this.

MS. SMITH:
I guess we are going to have to wait to get more information, perhaps, as the investigation develops. But just one last question, Dr. Safi. What can your organization do now? How can you function?

MR. SAFI:
Actually, now we have been really disturbed and diverted away from our main purpose. And we are disturbed really because we feel that the targeting of our organizations, Muslim organizations, have been unfair and unjustified. You don't target the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops because some Catholics in Ireland have been using violence. Nor do you target some Jewish rabbis because some Jewish extremists are doing violence in the Middle East.

So we feel that this is wrong. This is un-American. This has taken us away from our purpose. It is tearing up our community. So we hope that this can be contained, and we would like to see apologies from the Treasury Department.

MS. SMITH:
I imagine you will probably take that opportunity to get that message out to various authorities.

And thank you both for joining us today. I appreciate your being here.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs