A Saudi graduate student implicated last month in the FBI's terrorism probe gave money to a charity co-founded by jailed Ann Arbor Muslim leader Rabih Haddad, Justice Department officials said this week.
Sometime after Sept. 11, 2001, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a computer science student at the University of Idaho, wrote a check to the Chicago-based Global Relief Foundation. Federal officials would not disclose the amount of the check or the date it was written.
Al-Hussayen is the same person the government alleges funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to the Ypsilanti Township-based Islamic Assembly of North America. A federal affidavit says Al-Hussayen and IANA operated Web sites that openly advocated terrorism prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Meanwhile, federal documents filed last week in a New York court say Help the Needy, a Syracuse-based charity that the government says is closely associated with IANA, gave checks totaling $42,000 to Global Relief and the Benevolence International Foundation. Both of Global Relief and Benevolence International have been designated by the federal government as organizations financing terrorism.
The documents from the Internal Revenue Service were filed in support of the Feb. 26 indictment of four people tied to Help the Needy, which the government charges funneled more than $4 million to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Rita Katz, director of The Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Institute in Washington, D.C., said the check from Al-Hussayen shows a money trail linking Global Relief with Saudi money to be used for terrorism.
But Haddad's attorney says the check was just one of thousands the charity received from donors and just one more piece of what he called a flimsy government case against his client and GRF.
The federal government froze Global Relief's assets in December 2001 and declared it a terrorist organization last October. Haddad has been held since December 2001 on immigration violation charges.
FBI Supervisor Robert Davis says they intended to use the Global Relief check as evidence in Al-Hussayen's trial April 15 on charges of visa fraud and making false statements to immigration authorities about his role with IANA and other organizations.
U.S. Attorney Thomas Moss of Idaho said an FBI agent testified Tuesday in court that Al-Hussayen sent the check to Global Relief with the words "Chechnya" in Arabic written on it sometime after Sept. 11, 2001. Russia has been fighting Muslim guerillas in the former Soviet republic since 1999 in a civil war that has attracted Islamic militants, including Arab fighters with possible links to al-Qaeda.
"In our evidence, it shows Al-Hussayen had contacts with Global Relief," Moss said of the check, declining to expand any further. Haddad's attorney, Ashraf Nubani, said it's guilt by association and he questioned why The News was writing a story about the check.
"You are killing people for association," Nubani said. "They have over 20,000 donors and you expect GRF to check every one of them? What does my client have to do with a check? The paper is just being irresponsible. They are trying to crucify this person for no reason. Wait until it happens to the Red Cross. Wait until it happens to you. Eventually, it will go to everyone." "Why don't you write that he has been in (jail) a year and a half with no charges? It is incredible."
Global Relief Foundation attorney Matthew Simmons also questioned the significance of the check. "You could say they got money from Saddam Hussein and my response would be, 'So what?"' Simmons said. "My client had detailed accounting records of where every dime was spent. The government never accused Global Relief of spending money illegally."
Simmons said he hasn't been able to see the evidence the government has compiled against Global Relief. "They haven't indicted Global Relief, but I wish they would," he said. "If they did, I could see the evidence. I guess there doesn't have to be a smoking gun anymore."
Al-Hussayen is accused in federal court documents of setting up Web sites for IANA that promoted terrorism, including postings that called for the use of planes in suicide attacks against prominent targets. The documents say nearly $100,000 of the money he channeled to IANA came from his uncle, Saleh Abdel Rahman Al-Hussayen, of Saudi Arabia.
The government says the uncle met with IANA officials in the Ann Arbor area shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks and then traveled to Virginia, where he stayed in the same hotel as three of the hijackers who crashed a plane into the Pentagon.
The News has not been able to reach IANA officials for comment. The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia released a statement March 1 that said IANA President Muhammed Al-Ahmari is currently in Qatar. There have been other claims that Global Relief was receiving money from people and organizations with terrorist ties.
Terrorism expert Steven Emerson, in a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday before the House Financial Services, Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, detailed seven groups and individuals suspected of terrorist activities that have given money to Global Relief. Among those cited by Emerson in his testimony was high-ranking al-Qaeda financier Mohammed Zouaydi, whom the U.S. Treasury Department says gave more than $200,000 to Global Relief. Zouaydi was arrested in April 2002 in Spain.
Katz, whose SITE Institute was formed to monitor worldwide terrorism, said the government's case against Global Relief is strong.
"GRF is definitely a terrorist front," Katz said. "It was designated as a terrorist front by the Treasury Department. The government has been showing solid evidence on every case they have been going after."
Katz said the new information about the check from Sami Omar Al-Hussayen is key, "It shows that he (Haddad) was getting money from the Saudis," Katz said. "They were using people like Sami in order to send money from Saudi Arabia to charities to fund terrorism."
Katz was hired to research terrorism by 911 Families United To Bankrupt Terrorism, a collection of about 1,000 relatives of those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That group filed a civil lawsuit in August 2002 against organizations they say finance terrorism. The lawsuit was amended to include the Global Relief Foundation.
Tom Gantert can be reached at or (734) 994-6701. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
© 2003 Ann Arbor News. Used with permission