The Islamic Education Center is seen in Potomac, Md. on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009. The center rents this building from the Alavi Foundation, which owns the building but does not run the center. Federal prosecutors filed a complaint Thursday seeking to seize the assets of the foundation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin, AP / November 12, 2009)
U.S government seize 4 mosques, skyscraper owned by foundation linked to Iranian government
Adam Goldman, Associated Press Writer, 4:15 PM CST, November 12, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) — Federal prosecutors Thursday took steps 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 seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets of the Alavi Foundation and an alleged front company.
The assets include Islamic centers in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston, more than 100 acres in Virginia, and a 36-story office tower in New York.
Seizing the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and seeking a nuclear bomb.
A telephone call and e-mail to Iran’s U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered.
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 soldier.
The mosques and the office tower will remain open while the forfeiture case works its way through court in what could be a long process. What will happen to them if the government ultimately prevails is unclear. But the government typically sells properties it has seized through forfeiture, and the proceeds are sometimes distributed to crime victims.
There were no raids Thursday as part of the forfeiture action. The government is simply required to post notices of the civil complaint on the property.
Prosecutors said the Alavi Foundation, through a front company known as Assa Corp., illegally funneled millions in rental income back to Iran’s state-owned Bank Melli. Bank Melli has been accused by a U.S. Treasury official of providing support for Iran’s nuclear program, and it is illegal in the United States to do business with the bank.
Government officials have long suspected the foundation was an arm of the Iranian government; a 97-page complaint details involvement of several top officials in foundation business, including the country’s deputy prime minister and ambassadors to the United Nations.
“For two decades, the Alavi Foundation’s affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
The skyscraper, known as the Piaget building, was erected in the 1970s under the shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. The tenants include law and investment firms and other businesses.
The sleek, modern building, last valued at $570 million to $650 million in 2007, has served as important source of income for the foundation over the past 36 years. The most recent tax records show the foundation earned $4.5 million from rents in 2007.
Rents collected from the building help fund the centers and other ventures, such as sending imprisoned Muslims in the U.S. educational literature. The foundation has also invested in dozens of mosques around the country and supported Iranian academics at prominent universities.
If federal prosecutors seize the skyscraper, the Alavi Foundation would have almost no way to continue supporting the Islamic centers, which house schools and mosques. That could leave a major void in Shiite communities, and hard feelings toward the FBI.
Legal scholars who specialize in religious liberty issues said they know of only a few cases in U.S. history in which law enforcement authorities have seized a house of worship. Marc Stern, a religious-liberty expert with the American Jewish Congress, called such cases “extremely rare.”
The Alavi Foundation is the successor organization to the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit group used by the shah to advance Iran’s charitable interests in America. But authorities said its agenda changed after the fall of the shah.
In 2007, the United States accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and put the bank on its list of companies whose assets must be frozen.
The United States has imposed sanctions against various other Iranian banks and other businesses.
Eight lessons of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide
By Chido Nwangwu
Houston, April 2, 2009: April 7 is the 15th anniversary of the 1994 Rwanda genocide by the same country’s Hutu zealots who viciously set upon Rwanda’s 1 million Tutsis for the most brutal decimation of an ethnic group within 100 hours in Africa and the world.
On Wednesday April 7, 2004, Rwandan President Paul Kagame specifically named Belgium, Britain and the United States for withdrawing their forces when Rwandans needed them, asserting that: “Injustice of powerful nations should be stopped. Rwanda should be a good example to learn a lesson.”
The first, key lesson of the Rwanda genocide is that moral and courageous leadership serve our collective and singular moral interests. Kagame’s view dovetails with the words of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. in his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963) arguing that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Also, later the holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel in his book ‘Un die welt hot geshvign (And the World Kept Silent)’ later updated as ‘Night’, wrote: “Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must- at that moment- become the center of the universe.”
Biafra. Rwanda. Darfur, and other geopolitical zones of killings and human tragedy are reminders of past and continuing centers of the universe.
Reflecting on the crises of 1994, Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander whose call for reinforcements was ignored said recently: “The international community didn’t give one damn for Rwandans because Rwanda was a country of no strategic importance.” Bill Clinton was the president of the United States at the time.
The second lesson of the Rwanda Hutu-imposed genocide is that we have all seen the face of evil; sometimes, they reside among us. The Rwanda genocide is still fresh as the zone where next door neighbors and teenagers used knives and machettes and dane guns and assault rifles to kill those they played soccer with and fetched water from the same stream only a few hours earlier. Hutus set Tutsi houses on fire to destroy the lives of those who sang and played at the church churches and village squares.
The slaughter of women and children and all moving objects with any and all available weapons marked a new low in the depravity of malice and prejudice. The Rwandans have been for decades almost 92% christians (57% Catholic). There are almost 10 million Rwandans. Demographically, the Hutus (Bantu) form 84% of the population while the endangered Tutsis (Hamitic) constitute only 13%. There are the Twas (Pygmy) who form 1.4%
A third lesson of the domestic slaughter in 1994 in Rwanda is the highlight of the wider bloody history of annual violent bigotry inside Africa by Africans, what I call Africans-on- Africans- violence. They remind me of an interview the Voice of America (VOA) international service on September 11, 2002 where I said that: “The armies of bigotry, and murderous hatefulness have left a very severe and deadly impact on Africa.” Those armies, to be sure, are both external and local.
Which leads to the fourth lesson; a question: when will the blame everything on the “white man-white person” and “colonialists and colonialism” think beyond the instinct to hold external factors entirely responsible for the continent’s problems? I must note, frankly, that for all the divide and conquer and arbitrary mapping and lumping of dissimilar ethnic nationalities into awkward countries, for all the despoliation and degradation and exploitation of our African continent, “White people” did not compel the Hutus to express such primitive, medieval hateful, mechanized malice against their compatriots, the Tutsis.
The fifth lesson of the Rwanda genocide reveals the nakedness of one of the dirty secrets of African leaderships over the past 60 years: the weak-kneed clause of “non-interference” into the “sovereign” issues in other “member states” of the defunct organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union. They strive to protect their priviledged ponds of opulence and umbrellas of dictatorship and autocracy.
It is important to note that long before 1994 Rwanda, it is to the eternal credit of the late, great sage and President of Tanzania, Dr. Julius Nyerere that he tore the veil off the tawdry non-interference/ sovereignty in the face of human catastrophe when he interfered progressively against Nigeria’s starvation policies against then Biafrans (Igbos, Anangs, Efiks, and 13 million other south eastern Nigerians during their 1967-1970 war for survival and independence from the rest of Nigeria).
After Biafra, Nyerere stood up against the dictator Idi Amin of Uganda in 1979, forcing Amin’s regime to fall.
The sixth lesson derives from another question: long before and 15 years after the bloody genocide in Rwanda, millions of people still wonder when the looters and dealers masquerading as African leaders will be responsive and sensitive to providing the basic, fundamental justification for the creation of these countries/nations/ states?
Why are Africans and other parts of the world held in some of these corrupt cages, sorry countries, by very corrupt leaders?
Who would have believed that for all his sanctimonious animations, holier-than- thou dramatics and posturing as Nigeria’s morality high-priest, retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, the country’s two-time president reportedly collected several rounds of cash/bribe from the Halliburton squad?
The seventh lesson demands that the problems are not 100% local. Political economy fact is that the Western world and colonialist Europe, especially, have some responsibility for sowing the festering seeds to some of these problems by cobbling ethnic nations arbitrarily. Some of the countries have been hampered through neocolonialist financial structures and wealth transfers, predatory actions which fuel their collapse as another of bankrupt African economies and geo-politically failed states.
The eight lesson is that humankind overcomes evil, over time. Today, Rwandans are healing and rebuilding their infrastructure but the question remains. When will Africans, their leaders and all of the world’s leaders aggressively defend the lives of all people as a stand for the common thread of our shared humanity?
I entirely agree with the prophet Dr. King’s global connectedness of injustice and justice. Those leaders who failed all of us on Rwanda failed to heed the lessons of history and King’s moral challenge.
Chido Nwangwu, honored by the Washington-D. C.based National Immigration Forum for utilizing multimedia to fight authoritarianism and foster freedom of expression in parts of the African continent, is the Founder & Publisher of first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internetwww.USAfricaonline.com, The Black Business Journal and AchebeBooks. com. He served on the board of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., the NAACP Houston, a publicity committee of the Holocaust Museum, Houston and on Houston former Mayor Lee Brown’s international business advisory board (Africa).
USAfricaonline.com hás several article/reports/insights on Rwanda’s genocide atwww.usafricaonline.com/rwanda.genocideyears.html
President Obama, hate-mongers and mob cons. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfricaonline.com, www.Achebebooks.com, CLASS magazine, The Black Business Journal, USAfrica.TV, and the largest digital images/pictorial events domain for Africans abroad www.PhotoWorks.TV
USAfricaonline.com goes richly interactive with new look, content….
By Alverna Johnson. Corporate Affairs, Houston:
On 10/10/09, the major redesign and addition of richly interactive options will go fully live on the award-winning web site of the first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internet, www.USAfricaonline.com
“The importance of this latest interactive re-positioning of USAfricaonline.com is to fully tap into the advantages of the digital world to benefit our community and readers. Especially, the key issue and leverage is that we have and own unique content; and with this initiative, USAfrica advances, further, the immigrant African views and news into the international media and public policy mainstream. It leverages the global resources of USAfrica, again, into the electronic frontline of critically informed, responsible discourse and seasoned reportage of African and American interests as well as debating relevant issues of disagreement”, notes Chido Nwangwu, the Founder & Publisher of USAfricaonline.com, AchebeBooks.com, The Black Business Journal, USAfrica.TV and CLASSmagazine.
“Some of the new features on USAfricaonline.com have enabled for our readers and bloggers, the live texting of pages and page links to phones and other multimedia devices, instant sharing across all the leading social networks especially Facebook, Twitter, digg, myspace, Mixx, Technorati, LinkedIn, AIM, LiveJournal and Yigg.”
Chido Nwangwu, recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in May 2009 and analyst on CNN, VOA, SABC, highlights other advantages as “live RSS feeds and e-syndication of the USAfrica reports and premium content. In terms of graphics and structure, the new USAfricaonline.com has visually refreshing headers and crisp pictures. We’ve also added more columnists, regional news correspondents and incisive special features writers. The site will be updated regularly, especially for significant breaking news.”
The flagship of the American media, The New York Times, several public policy, media and human rights organizations have assessed USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com as the most influential and largest multimedia networks covering the bi-continental interests of Africans and Americans. The first edition of USAfrica magazine was published August 1993; USAfrica The Newspaper on May 11, 1994; CLASSmagazine on May 2, 2003; PhotoWorks.TV in 2005, and dozens of web sites and e-groups/blogs.
The Houston-based USAfrica has a formidable, experienced network of editors and correspondents across the U.S and Africa. Its Publisher served as adviser on Africa business/community to Houston’s former Mayor Lee Brown. https://usafricaonline.com/chido.html
contact: Alverna Johnson (Corporate Affairs). USAfrica Inc. 8303 Southwest Freeway, Suite 100, Houston, Texas 77074
office:713-270-5500 wireLess: 832-45-CHIDO (24436) e-mail: News@USAfricaonline.com or Chido@USAfricaonline.com