(RNS) For the staff at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief andDevelopment in Richardson, Texas, the month of Ramadan is the busiesttime of the year. It's a time when many Muslim pay their zakhat, or alms-- a charitable gift equal to 2.5 percent of their net worth and one ofthe five pillars of Islam. On Monday, Dec. 3, that meant the staff wasworking late.

"We are working long hours, from 8 in the morning to midnight justto keep up with all of the donations," said John Janney, thefoundation's assistant director for communication. "We have had to hireextra personnel to keep up. It's pretty much business as usual, thoughthere is no such thing as business as usual after Sept. 11."

All of that changed at midnight on Monday, when President GeorgeBush ordered the assets of the foundation frozen and their headquartersin Richardson was closed down, along with offices in Bridgeview, Ill.,Paterson, N.J., and San Diego. The foundation, which raised $13 millionin 2000, is accused of raising funds for the terrorist group Hamas.

"The Holy Land Foundation claims that the money it solicits goes tocare for needy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip," Bush saidTuesday. "Money raised by Holy Land Foundation is used by Hamas tosupport schools that indoctrinate children to grow up to become suicidebombers."

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill accused the Holy Land Foundation ofmasquerading as a charity, "while its primary purpose is to fund Hamas.This is not a case of one bad actor stealing from the petty-cash drawerand giving the stolen money to terrorists. This organization exists toraise money in the United States to promote terror."

Holy Land Foundation president Shukri Abu-Baker denied that thegroup has any ties to terrorism, or that it had violated any U.S. laws.A statement released by the foundation criticized the government actionsas being anti-Muslim, saying "the decision by the U.S. government toseize the charitable donations of Muslims during the holy month ofRamadan is an affront to millions of Muslim Americans who entrustcharities like ours to assist in fulfilling their religiousobligations." Another statement, from the Council on American-IslamicRelations and other U.S. Muslim organizations also criticized theactions, saying that they "could create the impression that there hasbeen a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam."

In Bridgeview, Ill., a Chicago suburb with a large Muslimpopulation, passersby watched as federal agents removed documents fromthe foundation's offices. Mohammad Ibra told the Associated Press thathe donated $50 a month to the charity and had gotten thank-you notesfrom Palestinian families the foundation has assisted. "There's just noway they're involved with terrorists," Ibra told the AP. "They sendmedicine and clothes and money to poor people in Palestine."

The Holy Land Foundation is one of eight Muslim nonprofit groupsunder investigation by the Treasury Department for ties to terrorism. Inearly November, The Los Angeles Times reported that the groups werelisted on a confidential letter sent from the Treasury Department to theattorneys general of several states. That list included six charitiesthat collectively raised more than $29 million in 2000 -- BenevolenceInternational Foundation of Palos Heights, Ill.; Care International Inc.of Boston, Mass.; Global Relief Foundation of Bridgeview, Ill.; HolyLand Foundation; Islamic American Relief Agency USA of Columbia, Mo.;and Islamic Relief of Burbank, Calif. The Islamic Association forPalestine of Villa Park, Ill., and the Islamic Center of Tucson, Ariz.,were also listed.

Two of the groups have ties to Mousa Abu Marzook, the politicalleader of Hamas. Marzook was chairman of the Islamic Association forPalestine from 1988-90. He also gave $200,000 to the Holy LandFoundation in 1992. Marzook's wife is an investor in InfoCom, a TexasInternet company with ties to the foundation. InfoCom's offices wereraided on Sept. 5 by federal agents and the company has been accused ofillegally sending computer technology to Libya and Sudan.

Muslim charities have been under investigation since 1996, under anact passed that year that made supporting terrorism a federal crime.Grand juries in Illinois, Florida, New York and Texas have failed toissue any indictments against Muslim groups.

Last year, while it was still under investigation, the Holy LandFoundation was certified by USAID to distribute U.S. international aid.That certification was dropped before the group received any funds. TheIslamic American Relief Agency received contracts to distribute morethan $4 million dollars of U.S. aid to Mali in the 1990s. Thosecontracts were canceled in 2000 after the State Department determinedthey were "contrary to the national defense and foreign policy interestsof the United States."

Still, there has been some evidence of links between Muslimcharities and terrorist groups. One of the men convicted in the 1993bombing of the World Trade Center was involved with the Alkifah RefugeeCenter, a Brooklyn charity. The investigation into 1998 bombings of twoU.S. embassies found a link between Osama bin Laden and a Kenyancharity. This past March, a group of Iranian immigrants was accused ofraising funds for charity and then sending the funds to a terroristgroup.

For the Global Relief Foundation, news that the charity is underinvestigation has caused a sharp drop in contributions. Global Relief,which raised more than $4.8 million in 2000, says donations are down by90 percent. The group denies that it is under investigation or that ithas any ties to terrorists.

"We have not heard directly from Treasury, from the FBI, the StateDepartment, the National Security Council or any other federal or locallaw enforcement agency about our fund-raising or about where our aidgoes," says Asim Ghafoor, Global Relief spokesperson.

On Nov. 15, Global Relief filed a $125 million lawsuit against sixmajor news organizations, saying that their "false and outrageousaccounts" damaged the group's ability to raise funds. The suit, filed inU.S. District Court in Chicago, names The New York Times, The BostonGlobe, Associated Press, ABC News, The (New York) Daily News, and theSan Francisco Chronicle as defendants.

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