BY SHABINA S. KHATRI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published May 8, 2002
Global Relief Foundation Attorney Roger Simmons told the Chicago Tribune today that Nabil Sayadi, the group's European director, was acquainted with Wahid El-Hage, a personal aide to Osama bin Laden, in 1991.
El-Hage, along with three others, received a life sentence last October for conspiracy in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, which killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
Global Relief is the charity co-founded by Ann Arbor Muslim community leader Rabih Haddad, who was arrested in December for allegedly violating immigration laws. The U.S. government is searching for links between the organization and terrorists groups.
Later, when El-Hage contacted Sayadi about funding a malaria abatement program in Africa, Simmons said Global Relief did not contribute to the project because it was outside of the charity's reach. He also said any contact with El-Hage was "absolutely innocent."
Global Relief spokesman Asim Ghafoor said even though the Tribune had their facts right, they were presented with the worst possible spin.
"El-Hage knew a ton of people in the United States because he lived in Dallas, Texas with his American wife and seven kids. The government wasn't even interested in him until after the embassy bombings," Ghafoor said.
Ashraf Nubani, one of Haddad's lawyers, said Sayadi's past contact with El-Hage still does not justify the Bush administration's December decision to freeze Global Relief's funds.
"The government is doing this (because) in the wake of (Sept. 11), they displayed this attitude of disregard for civil rights and constitutional rights," he said. "They want to justify what they did to the organization which is close it down, without probable cause."
Ghafoor also said he believed the implied connection between Global Relief and terrorism to be weak.
"It seems like the government is just trying to manufacture a case while they freeze us. But they're going to have to give more evidence than that," he said. "We're not going to be ensnared in this Bin Laden trap, where everyone is guilty by association. That's ridiculous."
Nubani said he predicts the government will not stop searching for any links between Global Relief and Bin Laden any time soon.
"I think the government will continue with this full force until the organization just capitulates because they can longer afford to defend themselves ... or the judiciary will have to decide this issue," he said.
Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller said he could not comment about the connection.