Merchant of Death
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IIRO Freezings Long Overdue
The Treasury Department's decision to designate two branches of the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is long overdue and overlooks a much broader problem. While the Philippine and Indonesian branches have been particularly troublesome for many years, the entire organization has been alleged to have been involved in terrorist activities on a far broader level.

IIRO is a sister organization of the Muslim World League (MWL), one of the principal Islamist groups operating in the United States. The IIRO, using the name IRO for the U.S. branch, was also part of the Safa Group, the cluster of Islamist charities raided in Herndon, Virginia in March 2002 on supsicion of funding terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

According to an affidavit filed Aug. 14, 2003, by Special Agent David Kane, the IIRO branch in the United States received $10 million from IIRO in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The money was to be invested by a company called Sana-Bell Inc. The proceeds were to go to fund the IRO's U.S. activities.

"I have found evidence corroborating that IIRO/IRO has transferred funds to HAMAS through HAMAS fronts such as Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (“HLF”)," Kane testified. While the case against the group is going slowly, due to the complexity of the schemes used by the defendants to make tracing their money as difficult as possible, it is moving forward slowly.

But more ominous is a 1996 CIA report on Islamic charities that shows that 10 years ago the intelligence community had at least a working knowledge of some of the more radical Islamist groups.

The paper, which has been declassified, lists the "extremist connections" of the IIRO as being Hamas, the Algerian Al-Gama al Islamiyya, and "Usama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi-born businessman currently residing in Sudan who supports various Islamic extremist groups." The report also outlines the IIRO's extensive ties to Bosnian Islamist groups, its funding of them and the use of charity IDs by combatants.

My colleague on the Counterterrorism Blog, Zachary Abuza gives a good summary of some of the other ties: Ramzi Yousef, who was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing and the mastermind of an elaborate scheme to down airliners and kill the Pope John Paul II in Manila; and the links of Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, to the plot while head of the IIRO in the Philippines.

It would seem that all of that would have been ample reason to designate the IIRO, in its entirety, some time ago. That it is happening now gives more sorrow than joy, showing how slow the going is against Islamist groups that can and have been clearly identified a long time ago.
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