- Missouri-based humanitarian organization that was shut down in 2004 when the U.S. government accused it of “providing direct financial support to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups”
Headquartered in Columbia, Missouri, the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) was incorporated in 1985 by St. Louis activist Eric Vickers as a U.S. chapter of the Khartoum, Sudan-based Islamic African Relief Agency. The IARA’s mission was to provide humanitarian relief to impoverished people around the world. The organization maintained more than 40 offices worldwide, and claimed to have provided aid to children and refugees in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
The IARA was a member of Interaction, a Washington-based coalition of more than 170 charities, and worked closely with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to establish feeding centers to combat famine in Africa and elsewhere.
In the 1990s the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)gave the IARA some $4.2 million in contracts for relief projects in northern Mali. The contracts were canceled in November 2000, when then-Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering wrote that continuing them “would be contrary to the national defense and foreign policy interest of the United States.” The State Department based its action on “classified evidence” it deemed vital to national security and thus elected not to make public.
According to the U.S. government, the IARA had close ties to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which eventually was shut down by the Bush administration in December 2001 on grounds that it had raised funds for the terror group Hamas. The government further charged that the IARA had ties to Sudan, the nation that formerly had sheltered Osama bin Laden and is on the State Department’s list of nations that support terrorism.
In 1999 al Qaeda operative Zayid Khalil, who was a fundraiser for the IARA during his tenure as Director of the Muslim Students’ Association at Columbia University in Missouri, was accused of purchasing the cell phones with which Osama bin Laden had issued the directive to carry out the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Nairobi.
In March 1999 the Muslim Students Association of UCLA sponsored a rally that featured an appearance by an IARA fundraising officer. Meanwhile the UCLA campus Muslim newspaper, Al-Talib, solicited funds for the IARA.
In October 2004, the IARA’s Columbia office was shut down when the U.S. government seized the organization’s assets and arrested its directors for allegedly “providing direct financial support to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups.” At that time, the Treasury Department named the IARA as a specially designated global terrorist organization.
In January 2008, former U.S. Congressman Mark Deli Siljander (R-Michigan) was indicted for money laundering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, in connection with charges that he had tried to help the IARA finance the Afghan jihad terrorist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar is known to have participated in and supported terrorist acts by al Qaeda and the Taliban. According to the Justice Department, he “has vowed to engage in a holy war against the United States and international troops in Afghanistan.” The IARA money in question was masked as a series of donations to an orphanage located in buildings that Hekmatyar owned.
John F. Wood, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, declared: “An organization [the IARA] right here in the American heartland allegedly sent funds to Pakistan for the benefit of a specially designated global terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban…. The indictment also alleges that a former congressman [Siljander] engaged in money laundering and obstruction of a federal investigation in an effort to disguise IARA’s misuse of taxpayer money that the government had provided for humanitarian purposes.”
According to the indictment, the IARA sent approximately $130,000 to bank accounts controlled by its parent organization, the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), in Peshawar, Pakistan, where the money went to Hekmatyar’s activities. The ISRA’s headquarters are in Khartoum, Sudan, and the Columbia, Missouri-based IARA was its American office until it was shut down. According to the Treasury Department, the “IARA is formerly affiliated with Maktab Al-Khidamat (MK), which was co-founded and financed by UBL [Osama bin Laden] and is the precursor organization of al Qaida.”
The 2008 indictment charged that the IARA had hired Congressman Siljander in 2004 to lobby for its removal from a Senate Finance Committee list of organizations suspected of supporting terrorism, and for reinstatement as an “approved government contractor.” The IARA, according to the indictment, paid Siljander $50,000 that had been stolen from USAID. Questioned by the FBI in December 2005 and April 2007, Siljander allegedly lied about his connections with the IARA — telling agents that he had simply received “donations” from the organization to help him write a book about Islam and Christianity.
Part of this profile is adapted from the article “A Congressman for Jihad,” written by Robert Spencer and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on January 17, 2008.