US agents raid Muslim charity groups, freeze assets

Federal agents armed with search warrants scoured the offices of two suburban Chicago Muslim organizations that government officials said are suspected of funding terrorist activities.

At the same time Friday, two Global Relief Foundation offices in Yugoslavia were searched by NATO-led peacekeepers and UN police. A NATO spokesman said three people were detained there but gave no details.

Both groups' assets have been frozen, the US Treasury Department said. Department spokesman Tony Fratto said that "there was coordinated action to block the assets because the groups are suspected of funding terrorist activities."

At the Global Relief Foundation in Bridgeview, Ill., agents removed furniture and fixtures as well as documents, computer tapes, and receipts, said Asim Ghafoor, a foundation spokesman. He said agents were there from 9:30 a.m. until after 6 p.m. Friday.

The other charity searched was the Benevolence International Foundation in Palos Hills, Ill.

NATO spokesman Daz Slaven said three people were detained in Friday's raids in Yugoslavia. No one was arrested in the US raids.

Global Relief issued a statement denying any link to terrorist activities.

"If they're investigating terrorism, they're not going to find anything here," said Roger Simmons, an attorney for Global Relief. Whatever the government is doing "is a terrible, terrible, terrible, tragic mistake."

The organization's statement lamented the seizure of resources that are used to prevent starvation and death in areas that urgently need it. "We ... take every precaution to ensure our aid does not go to support or subsidize any nefarious activity," it said. The organization raises about $5 million a year.

The Chicago searches were conducted by the Treasury Department, the FBI, and the Customs Department. The search warrants were sealed. Fratto cited the Patriot Act, signed Oct. 26 by President Bush, which gave federal agents broad powers to detain immigrants, eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mails, and to share sensitive details of criminal investigations with the CIA.

A NATO statement about the raids in Yugoslavia said peacekeepers had credible information that Global Relief may have been directly involved in supporting terrorism.

Last week, federal agents raided the Bridgeview offices of another Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. They say they believe the Texas-based charity is a front to raise money for the terrorist group Hamas. The organization denies the allegation.

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