Wanting to Stay Sealed
by Matthew Epstein
National Review Online
March 19, 2003
In an abrupt change of course, several Saudi-financed charities and corporations targeted by the Department of Justice in a terrorism investigation have asked the government not to unseal a federal search-warrant affidavit, after originally demanding that the affidavit be made public.
In a filing on Friday with the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia, federal prosecutors moved to unseal a 100-page search-warrant affidavit issued in connection with the March 2002 raids of several Virginia-based organizations and individuals.
The government's motion to unseal the affidavit comes as a result of a 50-count indictment handed up in Tampa, Florida, last month. The indictment describes in painstaking detail how the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization ("PIJ") was headquartered in the United States from 1990 until 1995 under the leadership of Sami al-Arian and Ramadan Shallah. According to the government motion, portions of the Virginia affidavit describe SAAR funding of PIJ operations.
The Virginia-based organizations and individuals form what is known as the "SAAR" network, named after Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Raghi, the wealthy Saudi patron of the Northern Virginia enterprise.
The SAAR network is suspected of laundering money for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Al-Raghi has been fingered as a prominent al Qaeda supporter, most recently in the newly released "Golden Chain" letter, a list of the 20 original al Qaeda financiers.
After searches of their homes and offices, the principals of the SAAR network quickly professed their innocence and pledged full cooperation with the government, while firing off allegations of Muslim persecution in America. The SAAR Don, Yacub Mirza, told reporters, "We know we have not done anything wrong…we will work with the government agencies and get them whatever they need." SAAR Executive Mohammad Omeish decried, "The message we are getting is, this war, even though they claim it is against terrorism, is against Muslims."
As part of their effort to discredit the government investigation, Mirza and the SAAR network initially filed a motion to unseal the search warrant affidavit. The targets apparently believed that exposure of the document would reveal that the government had no case.
However, in a curious twist of fate, the new government filing reveals that upon learning of the government's intention to unseal the affidavit, "every one of the Searched Parties now oppose unsealing of the affidavits."
Public documents show that the SAAR network was the primary backer of the PIJ front groups in the United States, World and Islam Studies Enterprise ("WISE") and Islamic Concern Project ("ICP"). According to the Tampa indictment, WISE and ICP operated as the political and financial command for the PIJ in the United States.
In fact, previously released correspondence and bank checks reveal that SAAR affiliates International Institute of Islamic Thought ("IIIT") and Safa Trust ("Safa") funneled tens of thousands of dollars to the PIJ fronts.
In a letter addressed to the University of South Florida, PIJ leader Ramadan Shallah identified IIIT as the "largest contributor" to WISE. IIIT executive Taha al-Alwani attended ICP conferences in Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Al-Alwani himself is an unindicted coconspirator in the Florida case.
As the federal prosecutors continue their investigation, and the targeted executives continue to resist government efforts to shed light on their secretive affairs, the question remains, what is it the SAAR patrons do not want us to know?
— Matthew Epstein is an attorney and terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism think tank established in 1995.