Obama administration cracks down on Iran-tied mosques, NYC property; Update: Alavi Foundation donates Korans to prison inmates
Interesting. Not sure whether this is the Obama White House response to criticism that it has been soft on jihad, but the timing is noteworthy. (Okay, thought about it. Yes, I’m pretty sure it is p.r.-driven.) Continuing an investigation it — ahem — inherited from the Bush administration, Obama officials have moved to seize four mosques and a NYC building linked to the Iranian regime and suspected of serving as fronts.
Waiting for screams of “backlash” in 3, 2, 1…
Federal prosecutors took steps Thursday to seize four U.S. mosques and a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government.
In what could prove to be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation, seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets.
The assets include bank accounts; Islamic centers consisting of schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston; more than 100 acres in Virginia; and a 36-story glass office tower in New York.
Confiscating the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and trying to build a nuclear bomb.
A telephone call and e-mail to Iran’s U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered. Nor was a call to the Alavi Foundation.
It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The action against the Shiite Muslim mosques is sure to inflame relations between the U.S. government and American Muslims, many of whom are fearful of a backlash after last week’s Fort Hood shooting rampage, blamed on a Muslim American major.
The NEFA Foundation has a trove of court documents related to the case, U.S. v. Assa Corporation (Ties to Bank Melli):
- Complaint (Added 12/21/08) In December 2008, the U.S. announced “the filing of a civil Complaint seeking forfeiture of the 40% interest in 650 Fifth Avenue Company (the owner of the 36-story office tower at 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York) which is held by Assa Corporation…The office tower at 650 Fifth Avenue (the ‘Building’) was constructed in the 1970′s by the Pahlavi Foundation, a non-profit organization operated by the Shah of Iran to pursue Iran’s charitable interests in the United States. The Building’s construction was financed by a substantial loan from Bank Melli Iran (‘Bank Melli’), a state-owned bank in Iran. The Pahlavi Foundation was later renamed the Mostazafan Foundation of New York, and later renamed the Alavi Foundation. In 1989 the Alavi Foundation formed 650 Fifth Avenue Company in partnership with Bank Melli. Bank Melli’s ownership interest was, however, disguised. Specifically, the Alavi Foundation transferred 35% of 650 Fifth Avenue Company to Assa Corporation, an entity wholly owned by Assa Company Limited; Assa Company Limited is a Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom, entity, which was and has since been wholly owned by Iranian citizens who represent the interests of Bank Melli. In conjunction with the transfer of the 35% interest in 650 Fifth Avenue to Assa Corp., Bank Melli cancelled its loan on the Building. Today, the Alavi Foundation owns 60% of 650 Fifth Avenue Company, and Bank Melli owns 40% of 650 Fifth Avenue Company, through Assa Corporation and Assa Company Limited.”
- U.S. Attorney’s Office Press Release on Civil Complaint (Added 12/21/08) DOJ notes that “without an OFAC license to do so, Assa Corporation and Assa Company Limited continued to provide services to Bank Melli by maintaining Bank Melli’s interest in 650 Fifth Avenue Company and transferring income from 650 Fifth Avenue Company to Bank Melli. In 1999, OFAC identified Bank Melli, and all of its offices worldwide, as entities owned or controlled by the Government of Iran.”
- FBI Press Release on Civil Complaint (Added 12/21/08)
- Treasury Department Designation (Added 12/21/08) Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey commented, “This scheme to use a front company set up by Bank Melli — a known proliferator — to funnel money from the United States to Iran is yet another example of Iran’s duplicity.” Further, “Bank Melli provides financial services, including opening letters of credit and maintaining accounts, for Iranian front companies and entities engaged in proliferation activities. Further, Bank Melli has facilitated the purchase of sensitive materials utilized by Iran’s nuclear and missile industries, and has handled transactions for other designated Iranian entities, including Bank Sepah, Defense Industries Organization, and the Shahid Hammat Industrial Group.” And, “Bank Melli provides banking services to Iran’s military vanguard, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Qods Force…”
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Arlene “Raheema” Pater-Rov wears the traditional hijab, a modesty scarf she wraps around her head to cover her hair, and a long-sleeved dark purple dress. The hijab is observed by many Muslim women and is the required dress code for walking through the Islamic Education Center of Maryland in Potomac. For this reason, Pater-Rov keeps spare scarves in the office for visitors.
Pater-Rov is the head of the IEC’s book distribution program, which sends free Qurans and other Islamic books to prisoners across the United States who request them, as well as to libraries and college students.
The purpose of the program is “to educate those that are in prison about Islamic knowledge,” Pater-Rov said.
According to Pater-Rov, many American inmates convert to Islam while in prison after learning about the religion from Muslim prison chaplains.
By one estimation, more than 30,000 U.S. prisoners convert to Islam each year, according to Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajaje, a professor of Islamic studies at the Starr King School for the Ministry.
Although many of the prison converts are Sunnis, a branch of Islam, the EIC’s books are written by Shiites.
“But we try not to stress the differences,” Pater-Rov said.
Many of the requests come from Michigan because of its extensive Muslim population. Pater-Rov said Henry Ford brought hundreds of Arabs to Michigan in 1905 to work in his factories manufacturing cars, and this is the reason for its large Muslim community.
At the IEC, the book distribution program is run out of a small office within the building. Two bookcases line the walls, filled with English translations of the Quran, books about the prophet Mohammed and interpretations of different surahs, or chapters, of the Quran by learned scholars…
…THE BOOK distribution program began as Quranic Account, run by Dr. A.S. Hashemi, in 1981, the year the IEC was established. In 1987 the Quranic Account moved to another address.
“But the letters (requesting Qurans) were still coming to IEC,” said Pater-Rov.
In that same year, the IEC began its own distribution program, Pater-Rov said. During its time in the IEC building, the Quranic Account gave out about 1,000 Qurans a year. Now, the IEC’s book distribution program sends some 6,000 books a year, which includes Qurans and other Islamic books.
The book distribution program is funded by the New York-based Alavi Foundation, which was established in 1973 by the Shah of Iran, Pater-Rov said.
“So, actually all the Qurans are bought by the Shah’s money,” Pater-Rov said.
After the Shah was overthrown in 1979, the Shah’s assets were transferred to the new regime. As one of the former Shah’s assets, the foundation is still under the Iranian government’s control, but the money cannot be used outside the United States, Pater-Rov said.
“They control it from Iran, but they can’t use it in Iran,” said Pater-Rov. “They have to use it here.”
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