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Sources: Feds raid Islamic charity groups

A federal agent loads material into a car in Bridgeview, Illinois, on Friday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents swept through the offices of two Islamic charity groups Friday, seizing all financial assets and records, federal law enforcement sources told CNN.

The raids, the first under the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, were conducted in Illinois and New Jersey as part of the government's effort to freeze assets of groups suspected of aiding terrorism.

The coordinated actions stem from orders issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control to freeze the organizations' assets.

Officials said Customs and IRS agents seized financial records from the Benevolence International Foundation in Newark, New Jersey. Earlier, FBI agents executed search warrants to seize records from the Global Relief Foundation near Chicago, Illinois.

CNNfn's Allan Dodds Frank reports on the seizures of Islamic charities' documents in Illinois and New Jersey (December 15)

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Treasury Department bulletin 

A statement on the Treasury Department's Web site said all financial assets and all records of both groups were ordered blocked.

The Global Relief Foundation issued a statement Friday strongly denying any link to terrorism and saying it would fully cooperate with the investigation.

"We are in the business of helping innocent civilians and take every precaution to ensure our aid does not go to support or subsidize any nefarious activity," the statement said.

"Just as we would call the police if our collection box or computer equipment were being stolen, we would certainly alert the authorities if we had reason to believe the intended humanitarian purpose of our aid were being subverted to harm innocent lives."

The statement said it has already had to shut down its worldwide humanitarian operations.

A Benevolence Foundation spokesman said the asset freeze will shut down its relief to the poor, at least for the time being.

The Patriot Act, which President Bush signed into law in October, grants sweeping new powers for intelligence-gathering and surveillance.

The additional powers include the use of much more international intelligence information and expanded wiretapping authority, and strengthens penalties for those who help terrorists and lengthens the statute of limitations for terrorist acts.

The Global Relief Organization raised more than $5 million last year for charities in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

The charity complained that the raid, coming at the end of Ramadan -- the biggest period of charitable giving for Muslims -- would hurt its relief efforts.

The Global Relief Organization filed lawsuits last month against large media outlets, including ABC and the New York Times, claiming that it has been unfairly portrayed as a terror organization.

Earlier this month, President Bush said the Treasury Department moved to freeze the assets and accounts of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The government said the organization, based in Richardson, Texas, acts as a front to finance the militant wing of the Palestinian group Hamas.

Federal agents and local officers raided the foundation's Texas headquarters, seizing assets and records and executing what an FBI agent described as a "blocking order."


• Benevolence International Foundation
• U.S. Treasury

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