A local Muslim charity filed suit against the U.S. government on Monday, charging that federal authorities violated its constitutional rights by freezing its assets and seizing its records because of suspected links to terrorism. The suit by Global Relief Foundation of Bridgeview, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, is the first court challenge in the U.S. to the Bush administration's financial war against terrorism.

Since Sept. 11, the U.S. has frozen the assets of 168 individuals and organizations that allegedly provided financial support to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. The financial sanctions, which have been followed by some U.S. allies, have resulted in blocking about $80 million in funds.

The Treasury Department took action against Global Relief Foundation and another southwest suburban Islamic charity, Benevolence International Foundation of Palos Hills, because of suspected links to bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. Both charity groups have denied any connection to terrorists.

Unlike the other individuals and groups that were officially designated as supporters of terrorism and hit with financial sanctions, Global Relief and Benevolence International had their assets frozen pending an investigation of their terrorist links. The White House was given authority to take such action by the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, signed by President Bush in October.

Tasia Scolinos, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, said the agency expects its action against Global Relief to stand up to court scrutiny. "It is appropriate and respectful to confine disclosure of the grounds and reasons for the blocking to a hearing before the court," Scolinos said. "We are confident that the government's action will be judged appropriate in this case."

On Dec. 14, federal agents raided Global Relief's office using a classified search warrant, carting away boxes of documents, video equipment and computers. The government froze about $900,000 of the group's funds. In its lawsuit, which names five federal officials, including the secretary of treasury, the secretary of state and the attorney general, Global Relief charged that the federal actions violated its due process rights and represented an unreasonable search and seizure, among other alleged violations.

The charity, which said it spent about $4 million last year on humanitarian programs, said it faces more than $100,000 in unpaid bills because of the government's freeze order. The action "has already inflicted enormous hardship "on the group" and will soon irreparably destroy "the charity" unless it is given immediate access to and control over all of its assets," according to the lawsuit.

Global Relief also alleged that government officials have engaged in a "smear campaign" by discussing its alleged terrorism links with reporters. Since the federal action, representatives of Global Relief and Benevolence International have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.

Besides the lawsuit by Global Relief, Saudi businessman Yassin Kadi has challenged the freezing of his assets in Britain in a British court. He and four others on the U.S. freeze list also filed administrative appeals with the Treasury Department.

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