Headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) was created in 1978 as an arm of the Muslim World League (MWL), IIRO today has more than 100 branch offices located in over 20 countries across Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the North America. As of 2012, the Organization employed more than 1,200 staffers worldwide.
But in addition to the aforementioned activities, IIRO has a long history of ties to Islamic extremism and terrorism. Indeed, U.S. counterterrorism investigators once discovered, among Al-Qaeda documents from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a late-1980s note bearing the MWL/IIRO letterhead and summarizing a meeting in which leaders of Al-Qaeda and representatives of Muslim charities had plotted to launch “attacks” from MWL offices in Pakistan.
In the late 1980s as well, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, who described bin Laden as his “best friend,” settled in the Philippines and proceeded to establish at least eight financial fronts to benefit Al-Qaeda. One of these groups was the Philippine branch of IIRO, founded in September 1991. Khalifa served not only as the head of this branch, but also as IIRO’s regional director for all of Southeast Asia. Moreover, Khalifa helped fund the infamous Project Bojinka, a foiled 1995 plot to blow up 12 American passenger planes in mid-flight above the Pacific Ocean. Bin Laden associate and IIRO employee Wali Khan Amin Shah also helped plan Project Bojinka.
From 1992-98, one IIRO branch gave $3.7 million to Baitul Mal Inc. – a terror-tied financial-services company based in New Jersey – to invest in real estate. But some of that money eventually wound up in the hands of Hamas operatives in the West Bank and was spent on violent attacks against Israel.
During the 1990s as well, IIRO’s offices were frequently staffed by members of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Moreover, approximately 40 to 50 percent of all IIRO funds that were supposedly reserved for charitable purposes, were being used instead to finance terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
In 1994, Philippine investigator Rodolfo Mendoza produced a report stating that IIRO “is being utilized by foreign extremists as a pipeline through which funding for the local extremists is being coursed.” That same year, the U.S. State Department issued affidavits affirming that IIRO’s Philippine chapter was a terrorist group.
In 1996, a secret CIA report declared that IIRO was funding militant and terrorist organizations in the Philippines, Afghanistan, and many other countries. By that time, IIRO had given more than $1 million to Global Chemical Corporation, a Chicago-based company whose president was Hamas operative Mohammed Mabrook.
In 1996-97, IIRO ignored an FBI demand for accounting records to explain what the Organization had done with several million dollars that had somehow vanished from its financial books. In January 1997 a Chicago FBI agent – suspecting “possible mail and wire fraud… and money laundering” – requested a search warrant to locate and confiscate those records, but they were never found.
According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism: “Following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa, IIRO’s chapter in Nairobi was deregistered by the government of Kenya for its alleged connection to the terrorists responsible for the devastating blasts.”
In the late 1990s, many IIRO staffers in the Philippines were believed to be Hamas operatives. And in 1999, a classified Philippine military report identified IIRO as one of a number of charity fronts through which Osama bin Laden was funding Islamic militants in the Philippines.
Not long before 9/11, one of the nineteen Al-Qaeda-affiliated hijackers, Fayez Ahmed Alshehri, told his father that he was going to go work for IIRO; the young man never saw his family again.
Also during the years just prior to 9/11, IIRO accessed a number of accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corporation, a large Saudi bank which was also used by some of the 9/11 hijackers, the MWL, and the terror-tied Global Relief Foundation and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. possessed more than enough evidence to justify labeling IIRO as a funder of terrorism, but refrained from doing so for fear of embarrassing the Saudi government, which was responsible for some 70% of the Organization’s funding.
In 2002, more than 2,500 relatives of the victims who had died in the 9/11 attacks filed a $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties which they accused of financing Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. Among the defendants named in the suit were MWL and IIRO, the latter of which had allegedly given more than $60 million to the Taliban.
In March of 2002, a U.S. government task force raided the offices of a number of Northern Virginia groups that belonged to the SAAR Foundation Network, a cluster of Muslim think tanks, charities, and companies with ties to terrorism. Among those raided were IIRO and MWL. IIRO’s U.S. operations went dormant after this, and its DC corporate registration was revoked.
IIRO remained very active overseas, however. By 2003, it had funded the construction of at least 575 new mosques in Indonesia alone. But as U.S. News and World Report noted: “Accompanying the money, invariably, was a blizzard of Wahhabist literature” whose “more extreme preachings—mistrust of infidels, branding of rival sects as apostates, and emphasis on violent jihad—laid the groundwork for terrorist groups around the world.”
Also in the early 2000s:
In August 2006, the United States officially designated IIRO’s Philippine and Indonesian branches as terrorist entities guilty of “facilitating fundraising for al Qaida and affiliated terrorist groups.” At that time, Abd Al Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, a high-ranking IIRO official in Saudi Arabia, also served as a major fundraiser for the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah, both affiliates of Al-Qaeda.
In 2010, IIRO registered a new American branch as a non-profit organization in Florida.
For additional information on IIRO, click here.