A recent report by the Middle East Forum revealed that the Obama administration approved a grant of $200,000 to Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA)) despite the organization being explicitly designated as one that funds terrorism and an al-Qaeda affiliate.
The IARA, also known as Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), was established in 1985 and came under scrutiny by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force. In October 2004, its offices were raided and its operations shut down. The group was closed down after being identified by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) – a financial and intelligence branch of the U.S. Treasury Department – as a specially designated global terrorist organization due to its links to Osama bin Laden and his organization Maktab al-Khidamat (MK), precursor of al-Qaeda
ISRA raised $5 million dollars for the MK but its links to terrorism went far beyond funding. The Treasury Department report noted that ISRA officials sought to help “relocate [bin Laden] to secure safe harbor for him.” It further reports that ISRA raised funds in 2003 in Western Europe were specifically earmarked for Hamas suicide bombings. The U.S. State Department designated Hamas as a terrorist group in 1997.
With such a clear connection to terrorism, ISRA should not have received U.S. funding, but this was not the case. In July 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded $723,405 to World Vision Inc., an international evangelical charity, to “improve water, sanitation and hygiene and to increase food security in Sudan’s Blue Nile state.” Of these funds, $200,000 was to be directed to ISRA as a sub-grantee.
At the time, the Middle East Forum made an inquiry with USAID about the funding of ISRA and in November 2014, USAID instructed World Vision to suspend all activities with ISRA and informed the State Department, OFAC, and USAID’s Office of the Inspector General of the case.
Two months later, Mark Smith, World Vision’s senior director of humanitarian and emergency affairs for World Vision, wrote to USAID, stating that the ISRA “had performed excellent work” for World Vision in the past, and that “putting contractual relationships in limbo for such a long period is putting a significant strain” on World Vision’s relationship with the Sudanese regime. Smith also stated his intent to begin working with ISRA again if he did not hear from USAID within one week.
OFAC responded within that period, denying World Vision permission to work with ISRA. In February, World Vision wrote to OFAC and Obama-administration official Jeremy Konyndyk who was, at the time, serving as director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.
Despite the clear and unequivocal decision that ISRA was a proscribed organization with ties to terrorism and should not receive any U.S. funding, on May 7, 2015 OFAC issued a license to a World Vision affiliate, World Vision International, to pay out $125,000 to ISRA.
“Obama-administration officials knowingly approved the transfer of taxpayer dollars to an al-Qaeda affiliate,” the Middle East Forum concluded, “and not an obscure one but an enormous international network that was often in the headlines.”
“We know that the government deliberately chose to transfer at least $115,000 to ISRA after confirming that it was on the terror-designation list. In other words, an al-Qaeda front received taxpayers’ money with the apparent complicity of public officials.”
The Middle East Forum has called for a government investigation but it is not forthcoming. When Asked to comment, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told National Review:, “As this occurred under the prior Administration, the current Secretary of the State, Secretary of Treasury, and USAID Administrator had no involvement in decisions surrounding this award or subsequent license.”