SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Four men of Arab descent were indicted Wednesday on federal charges they illegally sent at least $4 million to Iraq through a Syracuse-area charity.
The indictments contained no allegations of terrorism. And U.S. Attorney Glenn Suddaby said he does not know where the money went or what it was intended for.
"That's one of the questions we are unable to answer," Suddaby said at a news conference. "As money makes its way into Iraq, it becomes exceedingly difficult to say where it ends up."
Money transfers to Iraq even for charitable purposes are illegal unless the organization has U.S. government approval.
The four men are accused of soliciting contributions for a charity called Help the Needy from people in the United States, depositing the money in New York banks and laundering much of it through the Jordan Islamic Bank in Amman.
Charged were oncologist Dr. Rafil Dhafir, 55, of Fayetteville, N.Y., a U.S. citizen born in Iraq; Maher Zagha, 34, a Jordanian who attended college locally; Ayman Jarwan, 33, of Syracuse, a Jordanian citizen born in Saudi Arabia who worked as the executive director of Help the Needy; Osameh Al Wahaidy, 41, of Fayetteville, a Jordanian citizen employed as a spiritual leader at the Auburn state prison and a math instructor at the State University of New York at Oswego.
Dhafir, Jarwan and Al Wahaidy were arrested in the Syracuse area. Zagha is in Jordan and efforts were under way to bring him back to the United States.
The four men and the charity were charged with conspiring to transfer funds to Iraq in violation of U.S. law. Dhafir, Zagha and the charity were also charged with money laundering.
Dhafir and Jarwan were ordered held without bail for another hearing Friday.
"I'm short on details," said Edward Menkin, Dhafir's attorney. "But Dr. Dhafir told me he was fully, deeply and openly involved in providing what he believed was food aid to Iraq."
Reached by telephone, Al Wahaidy's wife, Jamileh, said she did not know why her husband was charged. "He would never do anything wrong. He's a very, very good person," she said.
Calls to Jarwan's and Dhafir's homes were not immediately returned. Dhafir's office was closed Wednesday afternoon.
Help The Needy used a postal address in DeWitt, a Syracuse suburb. The group's Web site said it raises money to help poor children in Iraq, which has been subject to economic sanctions since the Gulf War in 1991. The charity failed to obtain the required license to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq, prosecutors said.
"As President Bush leads an international coalition to end Saddam Hussein's tyranny and support for terror, the Justice Department will see that individuals within our borders cannot undermine these efforts," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "Those who covertly seek to channel money into Iraq under the guise of charitable work will be caught and prosecuted."
The prosecution resulted from a three-year investigation.
If convicted, Dhafir and Zagha face up to 265 years in prison and fines of more than $14 million. Jarwan and Al Wahaidy each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charity could be fined $14 million.
Separately, a University of Idaho graduate student was indicted for allegedly failing to disclose on his visa application his relationship with an organization that operates Web sites praising suicide bombings.
Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, was arrested Wednesday in Moscow, Idaho, and accused of supplying money and computer expertise to the Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America.
Prosecutors said if he had disclosed his relationship with the group, his visa application would have been rejected.
Web sites operated by the Islamic Assembly praise suicide bombings and tout the use of airplanes as terror weapons, the government said.
According to the government, one article posted on a site read: "The mujahid [warrior] must kill himself if he knows that this will lead to killing a great number of the enemies. In the new era, this can be accomplished with the modern means of bombing or bringing down an airplane on an important location that will cause the enemy great losses."
The government has been cracking down on Islamic charities since the Sept. 11 attacks, charging that at least some of the money they raise fund terrorist activities. At least three have been shut down.