CHARITY STRIVES TO KEEP 'CLEAN'
Anwar Khan is short on details but strong in his belief that the aid his worldwide Muslim charity has donated to help rebuild Lebanon will not end up in the hands of Hezbollah.
The money--$2 million collected nationwide since the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict began, including about $200,000 from Chicago-area Muslims--is funneled through legitimate organizations, he said, including the Lebanese Red Cross. In some cases, a representative of Khan's Islamic Relief, based in Buena Park, Calif., is on location.
"That's our job, to monitor that," Khan said at a recent fundraiser in a Villa Park mosque. "We have to make sure relief supplies aren't given to any political organization."
But while Khan's intent appears sincere--and Islamic Relief has never run into problems with U.S. authorities, according to a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department--making sure donations don't come into contact with Hezbollah volunteers may be harder in practice, aid workers said.
The Shiite organization has ministers in government, members of parliament, mayors in small towns and a network of thousands of volunteers who have been ferrying aid supplies to devastated areas since a cease-fire took effect earlier this month. Yet contact with Hezbollah, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization, could put a charity at risk of being shut down.
"Every U.S. aid agency is facing the exact same problem," said a spokesman for a West Coast aid agency operating in Lebanon, who asked not to be named because the subject is "super, super, super sensitive." "We're waiting on word from the Treasury on that. We're waiting on some sort of guidance."
The Treasury spokeswoman, Molly Millerwise, said charities operating in the U.S. are barred from knowingly financing or "working with" Hezbollah. The question is what might constitute "working with," given that many Lebanese officials are affiliated with the group.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the government issued general guidelines meant to help charities maintain transparency and prevent money from being diverted to groups or individuals that the government has designated as terrorists. It also created a list of some 400 individuals and organizations, including 43 charities, that it accuses of funding terrorism, Treasury officials said.
Muslim charity workers have asked the department to create a second list of charities it considers "safe" to donate to, but so far it has refused on the grounds that terrorists might then try to infiltrate those agencies, officials said.