Federal Agencies Seek Information on Funds
by Tom Jackman, Washington Post
Federal agents yesterday raided 14 sites across Northern Virginia, many
with links to the Middle East, seizing boxes of documents in an ongoing
investigation of the funding of terrorist groups.
No arrests were made, and none of the businesses was closed down.
Government sources said the investigation is looking at charities and
other organizations that may have contributed money to international groups
that sponsor terrorist activities.
Federal officials said the search warrants in Virginia and one in Georgia
were issued as part of Operation Green Quest, being conducted by a
counterterrorism financial task force created by the Treasury Department
October. Affidavits giving the reasons for the searches were sealed and
not provided to those who were searched.
Agents from the U.S. Customs Service, which heads Operation Green Quest,
and officers from nine other federal agencies and from police departments
swooped into locations in Herndon, Falls Church and Leesburg and other sites
in Fairfax County about 10:30 a.m. Federal and local officials would not
disclose exact locations for any of the searches.
But Customs agents were busy loading up boxes throughout the afternoon
two offices in Herndon: at the International Institute for Islamic Thought
and at MarJac Investments, both on Grove Street. Shortly before 4 p.m.,
investigators drove a large U-Haul truck into a parking lot near both.
Ahmed Totonji, a vice president at the institute, said he was surprised
by the federal interest in his firm, a nonprofit Islamic think tank that
been in Herndon since 1981. He said no one had told him why it was being
"We have no knowledge of this kind of thing going on," Totonji said,
we will cooperate 100 percent."
The institute has branches in 12 countries in addition to its Herndon
headquarters and describes itself as "an intellectual forum working from
Islamic perspective to promote and support research projects, organize
intellectual and cultural meetings and publish scholarly works."
But the institute also has been linked to controversial groups in the
Middle East. It has made large financial contributions to the World Islamic
Studies Enterprise in Tampa. In November, the Justice Department called
Tampa group a "front organization that raised funds for militant
Islamic-Palestinian groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and
Hamas. The PIJ, designated by the Secretary of State as a terrorist
organization, has claimed responsibility for several acts of terrorism."
Until the mid-1990s, the World Islamic Studies Enterprise was an academic
institute affiliated with the University of South Florida. Federal agents
searched its office in 1995 and eventually froze its assets.
Tax records show that the Herndon institute made contributions to the
group until at least 1994.
Steven Emerson, a journalist and author of the best-selling "American
Jihad," said yesterday's raids were part of a money-laundering investigation
launched by the federal government since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It is part of the ongoing problem of nonprofit humanitarian groups
commingling their funds with support for terrorist groups," he said.
Federal agents yesterday also raided the Graduate School of Islamic and
Social Sciences on Miller Drive in Leesburg. Taha Al-alwani, president of
the school, said authorities arrived at 10:30 a.m., confined employees to
the lobby and began searching computers and financial records. They said
little except that they were there to examine the school's finances.
Each employee was interviewed separately about his job, and when staff
members asked to use the restroom, they were escorted by armed agents. The
school, which opened in 1996, was the first in the country approved by the
Pentagon to train Muslim chaplains. Nine of the military's 13 Muslim
chaplains have studied there.
"I'm very upset, because after all our loyalty and service to our
country, here we see ourselves in this position," Al-alwani said.
Agents also seized documents at MarJac Investments Inc., in Herndon,
consulting firm that has offices in Egypt, Turkey, Malaysia, Canada and
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Operation Green Quest was created to identify and shut down the sources
of terrorist funding by using the Treasury Department to freeze accounts,
seize assets and prosecute those assisting terrorists.