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September 19, 2006

Feds raid Muslim charity that helped fund McDermott Iraq trip

Posted by David Postman at 2:30 PM

A Michigan-based Muslim charity that helped pay for Congressman Jim McDermott's pre-war trip to Iraq was raided yesterday by federal law enforcement officials.

Counterterrorism agents of the FBI and IRS raided what is believed to be one of the biggest Muslim charities in the United States, hauling away a truckload of documents and computers from its Southfield office.

The raid was based on sealed search warrants, but the charity's head of legal services, Ihsan Alkhatib, said the agents are investigating whether the charity conducted business in Iraq before the 2003 war in violation of legal sanctions against the country.

Alkhatib said Life for Relief and Development "did everything by the book.

It was reported in 2003 that the group, along with the Church Council of Greater Seattle, paid for McDermott and two other Democratic congressmen to fly to Iraq in 2002.

McDermott and the charity also shared a controversial contributor, Detroit businessman Shakir al-Khafaji, as reported in this 2004 story.

McDermott, D-Seattle, returned a $5,000 contribution from al-Khafaji, who had accompanied McDermott on his highly publicized trip to Iraq in 2002.

The businessman has been linked to the U.N. oil scandal in Iraq as well.

I've put a call into McDermott's office for comment.

UPDATE: I just spoke with McDermott spokesman Mike DeCesare.

He said McDermott was invited to Iraq by the church council, not the Michigan group.

"Jim was asked time and again by the folks there to go see what others had seen and were concerned about, which was the plight of Iraqi children," DeCesare said. "That was the genesis of the whole trip."

He said his recollection was that the funding of the trip was worked out after McDermott accepted the invitation. When he was told who paid for it, he reported it as required on disclosure forms.

"We've been straight forward about it because it's a pretty straight forward thing," he said.

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