A not-for-profit organization formed in New York State in 1973, the Alavi Foundation was originally set up by the former Shah of Iran’s government to promote Iranian language and culture in the United States. With the fall of the Shah, the multi-million-dollar building where the Alavi Foundation has its offices became the property of the Mostazafan Foundation, a non-profit group established by the Ayatollah Khomeini‘s revolutionary Islamic government in Iran.
The Alavi Foundation claims that its goals are to “promote understanding and harmony among people of different religions”; “promote the study of the humanities, arts, and pure and applied sciences”; “giv[e] assistance to public charitable organizations during times of hardship and deprivation caused by war or natural disasters”; and “provid[e] financial assistance to not-for-profit organizations that are involved in the teaching of Islamic culture and the Persian language.”
The Foundation owns numerous properties in the United States, including a 36-story New York City office complex worth an estimated $135 million; many acres of prime development land in Catharpin, Virginia; and four “Islamic Education Centers” in Potomac (Maryland), Queens (New York), Houston (Texas), and Carmichael (California). The Potomac location was directed for 14 years by Islamic cleric Mohammad Asi, who called the 9/11 attacks “a grand strike against New York and Washington” launched by “Israeli Zionist Jews.” Asi also has praised and supported the activities of Hezbollah, which is an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The Alavi Foundation manages the aforementioned real estate as the surrogate of, and for the benefit of, the Iranian government. The Foundation has long been accused of illegally funneling — through a front organization — millions of dollars in rental income from these properties to Bank Melli, Iran’s state-owned bank. Believing that Bank Melli was providing direct monetary support for Iran’s nuclear program, the U.S. government froze the bank’s assets.
According to former FBI official Oliver Revell, the Alavi Foundation is “a front organization for the Iranian regime that is engaged in covert intelligence activity on the part of a hostile foreign government.” That intelligence consists, in part, of monitoring Iranian dissidents in the U.S. by means of technological espionage.
David Cohen of the New York Police Department intelligence division has said the Alavi Foundation is “totally controlled by the government of Iran” and “funds a variety of anti-American causes” including the Potomac Center and other mosques.
U.S. intelligence officials characterize Alavi as a vehicle through which the Iranian regime “keeps tabs on Iranians [in the United States], obtains data about U.S. technology, promotes Tehran’s views on world affairs, provides gathering places for pro-Iran activists, and channels money to U.S. academics to gain a friendly reading on Iran.”
In November 2009, federal prosecutors took steps to seize four mosques and several other properties (whose combined value exceeded $500 million) owned by the Alavi Foundation. It was perhaps the largest counterterrorism seizure in U.S. history. The properties included buildings in Maryland, California, Houston, and New York, as well as 100 acres of land in Virginia.