In December 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, three large Islamic charities – the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) – were closed down, each accused of having funneled millions of dollars to al Qaeda and/or Hamas. A handful of the leaders of the affected groups were taken into custody, but most remained free. One of those who retained his freedom was a public relations representative for GRF, Khaled Smaili, who in January of 2002 founded KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development, making himself President and C.E.O.
KindHearts was incorporated as a “Domestic/Non-Profit” in Toledo, Ohio. Hatem El-Hady, a Toledo physician, was named KindHearts’ Chairman of the Board. Jihad Smaili, a Cleveland attorney (and Khaled’s older brother), became the organization’s legal counsel.
KindHearts’ professed mission was to “ease the suffering of the Palestinians” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as those in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Apart from its Toledo headquarters, the organization also opened branch offices in Lebanon, Pakistan, and Gaza. Once KindHearts was approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 charitable organization, it quickly became one of the largest American charities for Muslims, raising $2.9 million in 2002, $3.9 million in 2003, and $5 million in 2004. Among its various programs, KindHearts showcased “orphan sponsorships,” medical centers, housing projects, and other humanitarian ventures.
The organization’s primary objective, however, was to give financial support to the terrorist group Hamas. Mohammed El-Mezain (who was Hamas’s leader in the United States) was brought in as a fundraising specialist. Previously, El-Mezain had worked as a fundraiser for HLF, which had been shut down by the U.S. government in 2001 because of the financial support it had given to Hamas.
KindHearts also named the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a now-defunct Hamas front, as its “Fundraiser Organizer.” IAP’s former Director and Secretary General, Abdelbaset Hemayel, became KindHearts’ Illinois and Wisconsin Representative.
Other KindHearts officials with radical Islamist ties included the following:
KindHearts Director of Domestic Programs, Khalifah Ramadan, was a training and evaluation consultant for the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America, two large Muslim organizations based in the United States that have links to overseas terror groups.
KindHearts Representative Omar Shahin was an Imam for the Islamic Center of Tucson, the former home of numerous terror operatives, including Wael Jelaidan, who later helped found al Qaeda.
KindHearts Representative Wagdy Ghuneim is an Egyptian cleric who was featured at KindHearts fundraising dinners in 2002, 2003 and 2004. During a May 1998 rally at Brooklyn College, Ghuneim attempted to persuade the crowd to support violent jihad and derided Jews as “descendants of the apes.”
KindHearts Representative Hatem Bazian is an Islamic Studies professor of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley. During an April 2004 anti-war rally in San Francisco, Bazian, a native Palestinian, called for an “Intifada” against the United States. Two months later, Bazien was featured at a KindHearts Fundraising Dinner whose theme was “Palestinians in agony!”
KindHearts’ Manager in Lebanon, Haytham Maghawri (a.k.a. Haytham Fawri), previously served as the Holy Land Foundation‘s Social Services Director. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Maghawri “collected [KindHearts] funds and sent them to Hamas and other Salafi groups.” [One of the recipients of KindHearts funding was “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) Usama Hamdan, a leader of Hamas in Lebanon.]
KindHearts also formed relationships with radical Muslim houses of worship. In 2004, for instance, Khalid Smaili presented the “Mosque of the Year” award to Osama Jammal, President of the Mosque Foundation (a.k.a. Bridgeview Mosque) of Chicago.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in August of 2005, KindHearts held a fundraiser inside the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge, Louisiana – ostensibly for the purpose of aiding victims and building a new mosque in the area. Most of the $500,000 that was raised, however, went directly into the coffers of Hamas.
In October 2005, KindHearts again exploited a catastrophic natural disaster. After an earthquake ravaged the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the organization created a South Asia Division to respond to it, hiring Zulfiqar Ali Shah as Director of this Division. Shortly prior to this, Shah had been the Chairman and C.E.O. of the Universal Heritage Foundation (UHF), an Islamic-oriented educational institution based in Kissimmee, Florida. Shah had also served as President of the Islamic Circle of North America, a group with close ties to Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s version of the Muslim Brotherhood and a strong supporter of al Qaeda. KindHearts soon forged a partnership with the Al-Khidmat Foundation, the charitable arm of Jamaat-e-Islami.
In February 2006, Kindhearts co-sponsored a “Leaders of Tomorrow” conference held by the Muslim Students Association of Ohio State University (MSA OSU). Fellow co-sponsors included: (a) Kindhearts’ local parent organization, Masjid Omar Ibn El-Khattab, the mosque (near the OSU campus) which was home to the largest known al-Qaeda cell in the U.S. since 9/11, with two former members — Iyman Faris and Nuradin Abdi — already convicted and serving prison terms for their participation, and another cell member — Christopher Paul — awaiting trial at the time; and (b) Ilmquest Productions (the media arm of the Al-Maghrib Institute), which not only publishes and markets DVDs and CDs of Al-Maghrib “scholars,” but also the works of numerous other extremist speakers, including Bilal Philips, Khalid Yasin, and Yemeni al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi.
On February 19, 2006 (immediately following the aforementioned conference) — after a two-year Senate investigation into terrorism financing — federal agents padlocked Kindhearts’ office and froze its assets, charging that KindHearts officials had coordinated with Hamas leaders and had made contributions to Hamas-affiliated organizations. According to Stuart Levey, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, “KindHearts is the progeny of [the] Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, which attempted to mask their support for terrorism behind the facade of charitable giving.”
That same day (February 19), three Toledo-area men – Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum – were arrested and charged with plotting to carry out terror attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and other overseas targets. One of them was charged additionally with having threatened the life of President George W. Bush. When asked whether there was any connection between the closure of KindHearts and these arrests, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated that they were “separate investigations, but they’re coordinated.” From Amawi’s apartment, authorities seized knives, battle fatigues, computers, and records from KindHearts. KindHearts documents were also found in El-Hindi’s home and in the travel agency he ran in Chicago.
KindHearts was also affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, which enforces Wahhabi theological writ in America’s 1,200 officially recognized mosques, has held fundraisers for terrorists, and, according to terrorism expert Steven Emerson, “is a radical group hiding under a false veneer of moderation.”