Islamic charities linked to terror groups in Pak funded by US govt

New Delhi/Washington (IANS) The US government agencies have been funding the Islamic charities linked to terror groups based in Pakistan and the Middle East through InterAction, America's largest alliance of international non-profit organizations.

Publicly available official documents reveal that in January this year alone, the 1984-founded organization InterAction which has over 180 member organizations, received $5 million from the US government. In the last decade, the US Agency for International Development and the State Department (USAID) granted tens of millions of dollars to InterAction.

The DC-based organization, InterAction in 2017 launched a new platform called Together Project (TP) "to confront discrimination or targeted prejudicial regulations in the US due to their operating principles or religious faith".

Interestingly, contradicting its stated objective, the TP picked the most controversial Islamic charities -- Helping Hand for Relief & Development (HHRD), Islamic Relief (IR) USA, Zakat Foundation (ZF), American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA) and United Muslim Relief (UMR) -- all linked to radical groups in the Middle East and Pakistan. The five charities form the core of the TP.

As per an IANS open source research, while HHRD organizes conferences in Pakistan with Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation and the Milli Muslim League, the charitable and political wings respectively of the Pakistani terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba. Incidentally, Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global watchdog on terror funding, has put Pakistan on its 'grey list' for its failure to curb terror financing.

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The IR-USA is a branch of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) which has been designated as a terror organization by the UAE. German and Swedish governments have claimed that IRW has significant ties to Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist transnational political movement.

Similarly, Zakat Foundation was founded by Halil Demir, a former public relations officer for Benevolence International Foundation, a US-designated terror group. The charity partners with the Istanbul-based NGO, Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NGO has allegedly been tied to Al-Qaeda.

ARAHA is known to have ties with extremists like Yusuf Estes who publicly supports death for apostates. He participated in one of their fundraisers in May 2019. UMR's officials publicly support Hamas, the Islamic terror group of Palestine.

DC-based sources investigating the Islamist terror-funding said the Together Project has been lobbying with the US Congress to "weaken counter-terror mechanisms, deploying InterAction's immense resources to, first, delegitimize claims of wrongdoing aimed at its members organizations and second, advance legislation designed to weaken counter-terror finance laws."

Recently, TP's member partners from IR-USA and HHRD held meetings with members of the Congress and their staff to discuss "disinformation campaigns" and "bank de-risking". To discredit allegations against HHRD and other Islamist groups, they even hired Perkins Coie, the law firm responsible for the infamous 'Steel dossier' relating to the alleged cooperation between President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 elections, sources said.

The TP, sources said, distributes a "disinformation toolkit" that instructs members on how to control negative press and "promote alternative messages" or "new narratives". "By tying legitimate criticism of its members with 'fake news', internet 'trolls' and 'bots' and even Russian interference, TP teaches nonprofits to blur the line between fact and fantasy," an investigative researcher said.

The platform has endorsed letters to the US House and the Senate pushing for terror finance reform, met lawmakers from key committees, opposed legislation targeting terror financing in Pakistan and tried to enter special training in the bank examination manual that would downplay the risks associated with money laundering and terror financing, sources said.

It lobbied hard to put forth a bill, House resolution 2514 which would "reduce compliance costs" and lower "penalties and federal actions" against smaller foreign banks in developing countries that violate terror finance laws, sources said.

The FATF is going to review Pakistan's performance to meet international commitments in ending terror funding during a meeting in June. "But as long as InterAction and the Together Project continue to protect Islamist charities linked to terror groups, all the measures taken at FATF remain futile," an investigator in DC said.

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