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U.S./world – Assets of terror – Piercing the nonprofit veil

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In targeting Islamic charities that may funnel money to terrorist groups, President Bush faces a tough battle in his war against global terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 25.

Three Islamic charities were among the 27 groups whose assets the Bush administration froze this week, while another group on the list allegedly was formed by a brother-in-law of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and launched several charities to fund a terrorist network in the Phillippines, the Journal said.

But cutting off funds for terrorists won’t be easy, the Journal said.

It also can be tough to disentangle innocent charities from local groups inflitated by Bin Laden supporters, the Guardian in England reported Sept. 26.

Bin Laden’s charity also was the focus of the city of Cambridge, Mass., where the city council voted 8-1 to ask Harvard University to donate to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks $5 million in contributions the school has received from Bin Laden and his family, the Associated Press reported Sept. 26.

Middle Eastern terrorism, a Web of complicated ties among changing groups, has skirted prosecution in U.S. courts, despite investigations by grand juries in Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas, the Journal said.

Charities suspected of terrorist ties often claim they are legitimate humanitarian groups, making it tough to sort out how much of their funds, if any, are spent on illegal activities, the Journal said.

“As a practical matter, chasing charities won’t get anyone anywhere because the money is so well-hidden and much o fit may be in the accounts of intermediaries like foreign banks and money managers,” Alan Cohen, a former U.S. prosecutor of financial crimes in New York, told the Journal.

Some Muslims emphasize that targeting charities is sensitive because charity represents one of the “five pillars” of Islam, along with the recognition of Mohammed as a prophet, five daily prayers, fasting on Ramadan and a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Journal said.

Muslims typically contribute about 2.5 percent of their annual income to charity.

For full story, see the Guardian and The News & Observer.

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