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U.S. Government Seizes Iranian Mosques, Education and Worship Centers

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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."

There are already steps being taken to distance the Obama administration from the takeover. An anonymous U.S. official said the action was not coordinated by the White House. It comes, the official says, at a time when President Obama is stepping up diplomatic overtures to Iran in an attempt to have Iran abandon its nuclear program. Some have suggested a connection between the current action, and the arrest of three American hikers. According to the Christian Science Monitor, in July Iran charged three Americans with espionage, after they strayed during a hiking trip in northern Iraq. Family members have made appeals for their release, shown snapshots of the three visiting tourist sites in the Middle East, and say they wandered into Iran by accident. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently renewed her call for the release of the three hikers.

In court documents, prosecutors said Alavi and a related entity were sending money to Bank Melli, which the Treasury Department alleges is owned by the Iranian government and is being used to help build its weapons program. U.S. citizens, banks, and businesses are barred from using Bank Melli. In 2007, the US 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. Washington has imposed sanctions against various other Iranian businesses.

Thursday's action appeared to be the latest move in a drawn out case against Alavi that commenced last year with a grand jury investigation into the foundation's relationship with Bank Melli. A U.S. law known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act allows properties to be seized as proceeds of violations of money-laundering statutes.

An immediate reaction was forthcoming from the from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which said that a government effort to seize mosques was "unprecedented" and likely to have 1st Amendment implications. A spokesman for that Council said: "Whatever the details of the government's case against the owners of the mosques, as a civil rights organization we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide," According to Iranian news site Al Jazeera, the Alavi Foundation has been using rents collected from the building to help fund the centers and other ventures, including sending educational literature to imprisoned Muslims in the US. The foundation has also invested in dozens of mosques around the country and supported Iranian academics at prominent universities.

Al Jazeera reports that it "is extremely rare for US law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a move fraught with questions on the constitutional right to freedom of religion." John Winter, lawyer for the Alavi Foundation, told the AP that the organization will defend the case, adding that it has been cooperating with investigators for almost a year. "Obviously the foundation is disappointed that the government has decided to bring this action."

The forfeiture action comes at a tense moment in US-Iranian relations, with the two sides at odds over Iran's nuclear programme and its arrest of three American hikers. Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, said the timing of the forfeiture action was probably a coincidence, not an effort to influence Iran on those issues. "Suspicion about the Alavi Foundation transcends three administrations," he said. "It's taken ages dealing with the nuts and bolts of the investigation. It's not the type of investigation which is part of any larger strategy.

At this point, as the story is still unfolding. There is no evidence of Congressional awareness, or approval. A clear statement from President Obama would be helpful to address concerns that this unanticipated takeover of places of worship and the education of children by the United States government may have far-ranging ramifications.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • John Lake

    There is something to be said for the idea that while we Americans still believe in “Amber waves of Grain”, and “Truth, Justice, and the American Way”, in fact we don’t see our corruption, and our injustice.
    But we still believe in freedom, safety, and God given rights. All. We believe everyone is entitled to his or her beliefs. And some of us object to the previous American President and his need to force our system of government — “Democratization” — onto others. In absolute philosophy, there is no one to judge whose ways and cultures are superior.

  • KaRaZ

    #9 Ruvy:

    …And yes Israel’s Nukes are threat to the USA, right? Or perhaps her MOTHER, Great Britain? I do believe USA is the biggest threat to the existence of human kind as they have become a puppet or a robot who’s remote control is in the hands of those who owns Corporations, Medical Outlets, Weapons (Carlyle Group), and the Jewish lobby, then Corporate America, and then, right wing immoral terrorists. Well not to mention the CIA. Since, your ancestors killed prophets of God, And they helped Romans to kill Jesus Christ, your nukes are their to kill the last awaited saviors Jesus and Mahdi – that is why you are not using them yet. IRAN is simply trying her best to spread love, peace, and justice. Obviously criminals and war-mongers will NOT like it.

  • Free Butterfly, your argument might hold more water if any terrorist had ever actually used nuclear weapons…

  • Mariposalibre

    Who use nuclear weapons in the past? twice?
    then who is the real “Terrorist”

  • KaRaZ

    At my work place a few mad right wing terrorists once said, “What are we waiting for, let’s convert Pakistan and Iran into parking lots.” That was indeed a terrorist threat. The terror (NUKES) is already there in the world way before Pakistan got it. So, why it was NOT a threat to the EXISTENCE of MUSLIMS in particular and CHINA and RUSSIA in general??? SO WHO IS THE TERRORIST??? USA who actually HAVE nukes and actually USED nukes.

  • KaRaZ

    We all know USA is a criminal country consisting of good people and bad people, but owned and controlled by very sophisticated robbers and con-artists, I don’t have to name anybody you can simply guess from who has posted comments here. USA and Israel the GLOBAL TERRORISTS are planning to finish the innocent world of NON-ZIONIST WORLD. They have plans to loot and kill innocent world. Top of their list are IRAN, MUSLIM COUNTRIES (NOT SAUDI), NORTH KOREA, and indirectly INDIA. THE CIA is the real terrorists and dangerous as well because of their well established network that includes TALIBANS, AL-QUADA, and BLACK WATER. According to GOD these CRIMINALS, namely USA and ISRAEL SHALL BE ELIMINATED BY JESUS CHRIST – SOONER THAN WE THINK!

  • John Lake

    A Geek Girl:
    “..don’t care what the right says about it. If we don’t do it then Obama is being weak, if we do, then he’s being too aggressive. Whatever stand he takes will be met with criticism and polar opposite rhetoric.”
    A Geek Girl is right on here. Actually President Obama is taking a “sanction”. I don’t feel that the Iranians are aggressive to the extreme, except perhaps in their rhetoric.
    I shouldn’t surprise us that the Iranian government owns these buildings. I do wonder if we have evidence that money coming from them is being “funneled into their nuclear arms program”.
    At one point Obama conceded that it seems less than just to say “Yes, we can have nukes, but no, they can’t” He was considering world wide disarmament, with no country or group having nuclear weapons.”
    But some times it is unwise to blindly stick to stated principles.

  • Want to know the real reason why Iran wants nukes?

    As usual, you have it all wrong, Glenn. Persians want nukes because they feel they are the inheritors of the great empire of Darius and Cyrus. Any Persian government would want nukes. The Shah wanted nukes – for this precise reason.

    What makes this particular regime dangerous to Israel is not that they want nukes, – it is that they have pledged to wipe us off the map. That makes any nukes they get an existential threat to us.

    But a different regime, one with less hostile intentions in Persia, would still want nukes, and if they did, it would not be a problem for us. After all, we have had nukes for over 30 years. Having nukes is a prerequisite if you want to ever be more than a second-rate power on the planet.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    GG –

    Want to know the real reason why Iran wants nukes? It’s not because of America. It’s not because of our blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s NOT because of Israel (regardless of what Ruvy would have you believe).

    It IS because of a very unstable country right next door, AND this country is ruled by an unpopular dictator, AND this country is officially Sunni (who feel that Shi’a are apostates who are enemies of God (and yes, Shi’a Iran returns the sentiment))…

    …AND this particular country is the ONLY nuclear-powered Sunni country on the planet. We’re talking about Pakistan.

    That, miss, is what’s driving Iran to build nukes. All else – ALL ELSE – is just rhetoric and excuses.

  • Our enemies use our political divisiveness to hide within our borders. They use our dollars to build weapons against us. I hope we continue to seize their assets on US soil. I hope we continue to weed out the fronts they hide behind.

    You’re a wise lady, Geek Girl. If only the author of this article had your sense….

  • They let us know their intentions back in January when they sent gunships to threaten US warships. They’ve been aggressive and dismissive towards the US.

    I don’t think we should allow any aggressor to use US resources for their own benefit. I think their assets should be seized and they should be shut down without apology. I think any business who supports or assists them should be treated likewise, whether it’s a church or a laundromat.

    This is not about religion or any of the other platitudes I hear when we act to protect ourselves. They need to be sent a strong message. They’ve crossed the line. We’re going to re-establish it.

    I don’t care what the right says about it. If we don’t do it then Obama is being weak, if we do, then he’s being too aggressive. Whatever stand he takes will be met with criticism and polar opposite rhetoric.

    Our enemies use our political divisiveness to hide within our borders. They use our dollars to build weapons against us. I hope we continue to seize their assets on US soil. I hope we continue to weed out the fronts they hide behind.

    I don’t think this will make any difference in their nuclear decisions. They’ve had their own agenda all along. They’ll either come to the table or they won’t. We need to be united and strong in our convictions to protect ourselves.

  • I agree that this Administration has made many a misstep; however, I give this President an ‘A’ for his effort. Let the conservatives go after ACORN all they want because they’re disintegrating before our very eyes. There is one thing that will propel them back into power and that is another attack on our soil. I think Barack Obama is keenly aware of how fragile this government is. The problem, my friends, is the majority of us are clueless to its’ fragility nor do we seem to even care. So much for patriotism.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    This is one of the few actions I’ve seen the Obama administration take with which I strongly disagree.

    Yeah, sure, the mosques may have been fronts for the Iranians. BUT there’s more than one way to skin a cat, such as simply ‘leaking intel’ like “the following mosques are strongly suspected of doing such-and-such in support of terrorism”, and using the Rabid Right’s own oft-misplaced patriotism to do the administration’s dirty work.

    Instead, the Obama administration’s shot itself in the foot, particularly with trying to get Iran to toe the line. Why? If the mosques were fronts for Iran, then they were obviously Shi’a…and Obama’s middle name is “Hussein”, which is a name hated by the Shi’a (look up their “72 martyrs”) and among Muslims is almost exclusively given to Sunnis.

    And for Silas –

    To try and make this an issue about church vs. state or an infringement upon the practice of religion is just plain silly.

    It might be silly, but look at the hay the conservatives made with the even sillier strawman they made out of ACORN. I think it was Clavos (mighta been Dave) who quite rightly pointed out that the crescendo of troubles facing ACORN the past two years were not about fact, but about perception.

  • As far as seizing the mosques, once again the US government has done a poor job in reporting this. It’s not about mosques, it’s about the owner of the real estate to whom the mosques pays rent. Transactions within the United States which ultimately make their way into the hands of terrorist groups or governments which sponsor terror must be seized. It’s a matter of national interest and security. To try and make this an issue about church vs. state or an infringement upon the practice of religion is just plain silly.

    Insofar as the hype surrounding the prosecution of terrorists in a NY civil court, Republicans would do well to shut the hell up. These men are alleged terrorists. Technically, they are not military operatives of a foreign government. To try them in a military tribunal is giving terrorist organizations an elevated status. These organizations are run by thugs. And, in the United States, thugs are tried in our courts, period. Is there a danger of terrorist reprisals in NYC during the trials? You betcha. Does that mean we should be cowards and try them in secret off our shores? Absolutely not. The Obama Administration has made the proper call and Mitch McConnell and his band of merry Christian Crusaders can rot in hell.

    …- my ass bleeds…

    Been there, done that.

  • Ruvy

    You sure know how to pick ’em, Johnny boy. Any nice words to say for sewer rats, while you’re at it?

  • Ruvy

    I’ll give the scum at CAIR my dirty underwear to cry in. Poor, poor relations to murderous bastards – my ass bleeds.