NEW YORK – American Muslim (search) leaders are advising people who want to send money to help victims of earthquake-ravaged South Asia to thoroughly research charities to avoid running afoul of U.S. terrorism laws.
The earthquake has spurred one group, Washington-based Muslim Advocates (search), to provide donors with a document that lists guidelines for giving money to charities. Some people are donating items such as blankets and clothing to avoid the chance they might be unwittingly bankrolling terrorists.
"I think the vast bulk of people are giving, want to give, and then it's a question of people wanting to be sure that they're not running afoul of these laws," said Farhana Khera, executive director of the Muslim Advocates.
After Sept. 11, the U.S. government began cracking down on groups it alleged were funding terrorist activities. Among the groups accused were the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (search) and the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation (search), which claimed to be legitimate charities helping the needy.
In recent days, American Muslim and South Asian groups have leaped to help earthquake victims, pledging millions in money and other aid. The death toll has surpassed 35,000, with Pakistan being by far the hardest hit country.
Muslim leaders said most of their advice to donors — such as checking to see if a group publishes annual reports — would apply to contributors anywhere who want accountability from charities.
"What we are doing is raising the level of caution," said Suhail Muzaffar, chairman of the board of the mosque Masjid Al Noor (search) of Staten Island.
Khera's group is telling donors who wire money to ensure the legitimacy of overseas bank accounts. Because wire transactions, especially those involving Muslim countries, have been subject to intense federal scrutiny post-Sept. 11 (search), it might be best to avoid them altogether, Khera said.
She also advised donors to keep careful records of which organizations they give to and how much, and to specify the cause the money should go toward.
She and others said that in some cases, it may be preferable to stick to U.S.-based groups.
Donors also are being warned not to give to any entity on the Treasury Department's list of "Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons." The list includes some groups the government shut down after the 2001 attacks. Giving money to those listed is illegal.