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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora