In a surprise move on Friday, the United States federal government has seized control of four mosques and a Manhattan skyscraper belonging to a Muslim non-profit group. The seized properties are in New York City, Rockville, Maryland, Houston, Texas, and Sacramento, California. Included is the Islamic Education Center in Southwest Houston. Fahem Kazimi, the Chairman of the Al-Hadi School in Houston commented on the status of this building which is leased by the Alavi Foundation, pointing out that they only lease the building.
Kazimi describes the Islamic Association of Houston as an independent organization not affiliated with any secret organization. A staff member at the school, formally known as the Al-Hadi School of Accelerative Learning, Farouk Abdulgakni, said the Islamic Education Center Houston provides services to the community, provides a place for people to worship, has a community clinic, and a full time school. "We have a program where the children are able to finish their high school early and they can take college courses at the same time." Those who worship here say about 300 children, including Abdulgakni's three children, attend school here. "This is really upsetting to me," he said.
Abdulgakni went on to say, "A lot of times it's short at the end of the year - we have to donate money to keep the building afloat ... It's not fair that this is how we are being treated, that our building is going to be seized, that my children are going to have to look for a new school — my friends are going to have to look for new jobs."
Prosecutors say the Alavi Foundation illegally funneled millions in rental income back to Iran's state-owned bank which is accused of providing support for Iran's nuclear program. Abdulgakni however said all money from tuition at the Al-Hadi school goes to pay teachers' salaries and other operating expenses for the building.
The New York City building which was seized is a skyscraper, known as the Piaget building, which was erected in the 1970s on Fifth Avenue under the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. The Los Angeles Times reports, referring to the statements of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, that the Alavi Foundation has effectively been a front for the government of Iran, that their affairs have been directed for "two decades" by Iranian officials, including United Nations' ambassadors, and that this is a violation of American law. The properties and bank accounts being sought by the government in a civil lawsuit are worth more than $500 million and represent one of the largest attempted seizures of assets allegedly linked to Iran. Tenants and occupants of the properties "remain free to use the properties," said Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for Bharara's office. "There are no allegations of any wrongdoing on the part of any of these tenants or occupants."