DETROIT – A man who serves on the board of a group suspected of funding terrorism has been detained by federal immigration officials on a visa violation, his attorney said Monday.
Attorney Ashraf Nubani said his client, Rabih Haddad, 41, was detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Friday, the same day federal agents raided the offices of Global Relief Foundation of Bridgeview, Ill.
Haddad, a native of Lebanon now living in Ann Arbor, is on the group's board of trustees. He co-founded the foundation in 1992 and served as its CEO from 1992 to 1996, according to the Web site for the Conference on Palestine held at the University of Michigan in March.
The assets of the foundation have been frozen by the federal government because it is among groups suspected of funding terrorist activities.
Nubani said he believes agents tipped off the INS about Haddad's immigration status following the raid.
"If he had any (immigration) issue he would have been picked up long ago," Nubani said.
He said Haddad isn't affiliated with terrorist groups, and he hoped officials didn't detain Haddad because they suspected that.
"I think that that would be a big mistake," Nubani said.
INS officials said Haddad would be held without bond or a detention hearing, he said. INS officials would not comment on the case. The FBI referred all questions to the INS.
No arrests were made when the Global Relief Foundation offices in Illinois were raided. Two of the foundation's offices in Yugoslavia also were searched Friday by NATO-led peacekeepers and U.N. police. A NATO spokesman said three people were detained there but gave no details.
Nubani said Haddad has been in the United States on and off for 14 years — one of his four children was born here in 1993 — and first came on a student visa. Haddad attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Haddad last came to the United States in 1998 on a tourist visa that has since expired, Nubani said. But he said Haddad applied for permanent residency through a provision of the Lise Act passed by President Clinton in 2000, and therefore should be protected.
Nazih Hassan, with the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, said he is "baffled" by Haddad's detention.
"Everybody I know loves this guy. ... He doesn't have any enemies," Hassan said. "We just think this is more of an intimidation and target of Muslim activists. This is what we fear."
Hassan said Haddad has been "very outspoken and active in trying to mobilize Muslim groups to collect donations and assistance" for Afghanistan. Among the initiatives of the Global Relief Foundation is Operation Enduring Mercy, which aims to raise money to buy food, emergency relief items and medical supplies for Afghan refugees.
Hassan and others painted a picture of Haddad as a beloved member of the local community, a religious leader and a respected speaker on Muslim issues.
"He's not militant in any sense of the word. He's spoken out strongly against the terrorists perverting Islam for their own use," said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan.
Nubani said thousands of people around the country have signed a petition in support of Haddad. He said there were 1,637 signatures in the Ann Arbor-Dearborn area by Tuesday afternoon, more than 2,000 in the Chicago area and hundreds in Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the petition is to show INS that Haddad should be released, he said.
Michigan is home to about 350,000 Arab-Americans. The Justice Department sent letters to hundreds of southeastern Michigan men, mostly from the Middle East, seeking to interview them in the terrorism investigation. Officials have sought help from local Arab leaders in the interview process.
Steinberg said Haddad's detention is counterproductive to that effort.
"In my view the federal agents are destroying any trust that exists between the law enforcement and the Arab community," Steinberg said.