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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Exclusive: U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki

Yemeni government official Hamoud Hattar, left, and Al Qaeda-linked cleric Abdul Majid Zindani at an October 2009 Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) event in Yemen. Hattar on June 7 announced that Yemen will not extradite Awlaki to the United States.

By J.M. Berger

Updated June 23, 2010

The U.S. Department of Labor gave millions of dollars to a joint venture that included a Yemeni charity with extensive links to Al Qaeda.

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At least $3.5 million was allocated by the Labor Department to fund a three-year partnership between the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), based in Yemen, and CHF International, a Maryland-based foundation, to fight child labor and child trafficking starting in fiscal year 2008.

The money was provided through a grant by the Labor Department's Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Trafficking (OCFT), according to a Labor Department press release, the agency's Web site and Middle Eastern news sources (link, link).

Wanted fugitive and radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar Awlaki served as a vice president for the organization during the 1990s. Awlaki is also believed to be associated with Al Qaeda (link). Awlaki's name is listed on an IRS Form 990 filed by the Charitable Society for Social Welfare for an now-defunct U.S. branch of the organization. Click here to read the CSSW tax form, which is a public record. Awlaki is listed as vice president on page 4 of the document.

CSSW spokesman Jamal Al-Haddi denied that the organization was connected to the Yemeni CSSW and denied that Awlaki ever worked for the Yemen branch of the organization. He told INTELWIRE in an e-mail that "CSSW has no branches outside Republic of Yemen. No official or unofficial branch of CSSW in the United States."

However CSSW's own Web site, in an archived page found on, shows that in 2003 CSSW listed contact information for branches in Brooklyn, Detroit and San Diego. The 990 form shows that CSSW had directors in all three cities, including Awlaki in San Diego, whose listed address is the Ar-Ribat mosque. Two of the September 11 hijackers attended that mosque while Awlaki was imam there. The archived link was provided by Evan Kohlmann, a senior investigator with the NEFA Foundation.

The U.S.-based organization claims on its tax form that it provides services and support for orphans in Yemen, just as the Sana-based CSSW does. According to additional tax documents obtained by the NEFA Foundation, CSSW intitially claimed it was not related to CSSW in Yemen in an IRS 1023 filing. But the charity's attorney, Ronald Rose, later admitted, in response to IRS questions, that the two organizations were closely linked.

The complete letter can be viewed on the NEFA Foundation Web site, which states, "Despite recent statements from CSSW's head office in Yemen strongly denying any link to al-Awlaki or the affiliate group in Kansas he helped manage, Mr. Rose's letter appears to paint a sharply contrasting picture." The letter states:

In general, the distributions of funds raised by this charity will not go directly to individuals…to provide assistance for people who have been victimized by the civil wars in Yemen and Somalia… A similar charitable organization exists in the nation of Yemen, whose goals are the same. In many cases, application for benefits will be submitted through the organization in Yemen and contributed funds will be routed through this organization to the ultimate recipients. The role of the charitable organization in Yemen will be to act as an agent or facilitator for the distribution of benefits from the Society.

The Brooklyn branch of CSSW was the subject of an FBI terrorism financing investigation in 2003, five years prior to the Department of Labor grant approval. Al-Haddi did not respond to a question on this issue. The terrorism financing investigation was known as "Black Bear." Click here to read a court filing which provides some details of the investigation.

The filing was made by the defense team for Numan Maflahi, a Yemeni-born U.S. citizen who was convicted of lying to federal agents in a terrorism financing investigation. Click here for a New York Times story about the conviction. Click here for an Associated Press story on the investigation of CSSW.

The Washington Post reported in 2008 that CSSW was founded by Abdul Majid Al Zindani, a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet Union and its civil war aftermath. Zindani was an associate of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to published reports and exclusive documents obtained by INTELWIRE. Zindani has been designated as a member or associate of Al Qaeda by both the U.S. government and the United Nations.

Documents filed in a U.S. terrorism prosecution state that the Yemeni government considered the Al Iman University, run by Zindani, "as a 'nest for terrorism' that exports and propagates terrorism." Click here to read the document. Awlaki lectured at the University, according to the Washington Post and other sources.

Al-Haddi denied that Zindani had ever played any role in the organization. Neither Awlaki or Zindani has "never have been part of CSSW either as founders, members of Managerial Boards, employees, consultants volunteers or any position in CSSW," Al-Haddi wrote in an email. When asked if CSSW had requested a correction from Washington Post, he said that he had not but intended to.

However, the CSSW Web site again seems to contradict Al-Haddi's statement.

CSSW's Web site contains stories on a 2009 "Orphan's Festival" event featuring Zindani as a featured speaker in a central role. Zindani is named on the page, which also features a photograph of the cleric at the center dias of the event. Click here for the original page in Arabic, and click here for a cached copy of the the page. The event was also extensively covered in the organization's newsletter. A cached copy of the story may be viewed by clicking here.

When asked about the photos, Al-Haddi said that Zindani's presence at the 2009 festival was simply as an attendee due to Zindani's participation in the Yemeni government in 1990. He also suggested that Zindani was only one of 500 participants, and played no role at the conference.

However, photos of the event, found on an Arabic Web site, show Zindani seated prominently in the front row of the event and handing out awards from the stage. The CSSW Web site additionally describes Zindani as a speaker at the event.

In several photos, Zindani appears with another speaker at the event, Judge Hamoud Hattar, who in June announced that Yemen will not extradite Anwar Awlaki to the United States. Hattar, ironically, has gained a measure of fame for his "deradicalization" efforts with Yemeni extremists in prison.

Yemeni government official Hamoud Hattar, left, and Al Qaeda-linked cleric Abdul Majid Zindani at an October 2009 Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) event in Yemen.

Also at the event was Sheikh Aed Al Qarni, who can be seen in this video calling on Allah to "destroy the Jews" and praising jihadists attacking American forces in Iraq.

Sheikh Aed Al Qarni at an October 2009 Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) event in Yemen.

The CSSW Web site lists partner organizations including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Qatar Charitable Society, both of which are believed by the U.S. government to be Al Qaeda financing vehicles. The U.S. alleges that IIRO helped finance the Manila-based Bojinka plot to blow up U.S. airliners in 1995. According to an Al Qaeda informant, Osama bin Laden has stated that Qatar Charitable Society funds were used to pay for an attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, also in 1995.

This story has been substantially updated with CSSW denials and with additional documentation which supports the story. For the full text of comments from CSSW's Al-Haddi, click here.

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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