Chicago Muslim Groups Deny Terror Links

Two suburban Chicago Muslim organizations denied links to terrorism after government officials raided their offices searching for evidence.

The Global Relief Foundation in Bridgeview and the Benevolence International Foundation in Palos Hills were searched Friday, FBI spokeswoman Ebony Harrel said. No one was arrested.

Another search was conducted Friday at a Benevolence International Foundation office in Newark, N.J., according to Dean Boyd, spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service. No one was arrested, he said.

"If they're investigating terrorism, they're not going to find anything here," said Roger Simmons, an attorney for Global Relief. Whatever the government is doing "is a terrible, terrible, terrible, tragic mistake," he said.

Representatives of the Benevolence International Foundation did not return phone calls from The Associated Press on Saturday, but a recorded message encouraged callers to donate to a fund for poor Muslims, including Afghan war refugees.

On Friday, a spokesman for the group said the charity is cooperating.

"It's part of a higher level of scrutiny of all Muslim relief organizations," Saffet A. Catovic said. "We are all under the microscope and we are willing to cooperate."

At the same time as the Illinois searches, two Global Relief Foundation offices in Yugoslavia were searched by NATO-led peacekeepers and U.N. police. A NATO spokesman said three people were detained there but gave no details.

Both groups' assets have been frozen, the U.S. Treasury Department said. Department spokesman Tony Fratto said early Saturday that "there was coordinated action to block the assets because the groups are suspected of funding terrorist activities."

Global Relief's statement lamented the seizure of resources used to prevent "the slow starvation and gruesome death in parts of the Muslim world that rely on such badly needed aid."

"We are in the business of helping innocent civilians and take every precaution to ensure our aid does not go to support or subsidize any nefarious activity," the statement said.

Officials said the Chicago searches were conducted by the Treasury Department, the FBI and the Customs Department. The search warrants were sealed.

Fratto cited the Patriot Act, signed Oct. 26 by President Bush, which gave federal agents broad powers to detain immigrants, eavesdrop on telephone calls and e-mail, and share sensitive details of criminal investigations with the CIA.

The NATO statement about the raids on Global Relief offices in Yugoslavia said peacekeepers and U.N. police had received credible information that Global Relief may have been directly involved in supporting terrorism, which the group has denied.

"It is suspected of supporting worldwide terrorist activities and is allegedly involved in planning attacks against targets in the USA and Europe," the statement said.

NATO spokesman Daz Slaven said three people were detained in Friday's raids there. He declined to release details.

Bosnian police raided the offices and apartments of employees of the Global Relief Foundation and the Taibah International, another Islamic relief agency, a police statement released Saturday said. Police seized documents and questioned seven agency employees, the statement said.

Last week, federal agents raided the Bridgeview offices of another Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. Authorities said the Texas-based charity is believed to be a front that raises money for the terrorist group Hamas. The organization denies the allegation.