African Muslims Complain About Clampdown on Charities

Some Muslim groups in Africa complain that efforts to clamp down on Islamic charities with suspected links to terrorism are part of a U.S.-orchestrated campaign against their religion.

Sheikh Hassan Hendricks of the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa said here that the U.S. needed to establish a "clear-cut" definition of terror-funding, so as to avoid the closure of genuine charitable institutions.

Western governments and United Nations have spearheaded investigations into Islamic charities in the aftermath of 9/11, and some were found to have been used to channel funds for terrorist groups.

In 2002, U.S. and Kenyan intelligence agencies discovered that donations to a charity group known as Al-Haramain Foundation, ostensibly supporting Islamic preachers, were used to fund the August 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the November 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel on the Kenyan coast.

Speaking to at a conference in Nairobi of Muslim scholars, Hendricks said some African governments were passing laws that were unfair to Muslims.

He pointed to legislation enacted in South Africa which established an institution to identify the proceeds of unlawful activities, in a bid to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

"It seems that this is targeted at Muslim charities," Hendricks said of the Financial Intelligence Act, alleging that Pretoria had passed it because of pressure from the U.S.

The South African Embassy in Nairobi said Hendricks was wrong, and that the legislation was necessary to protect the national borders and the economy.

"White-collar criminals have been using South Africa as a springboard for their criminal activities," an embassy political officer said.

He denied that the law was passed under pressure from the U.S. or that it was aimed at Islamic groups.

"Every citizen and organization, whether Christian or Muslim, has to comply."

Another complaint raised by Muslims participating in the conference related to Kenya, where a representative of a Nairobi-based charity, the Young Muslim Association, claimed the government was interfering with Muslims' fundraising efforts.

The representative, who declined to be named, said the government was doing so by demanding that any foreign exchange transfer to the Young Muslim Association in excess of $10, 000 must be cleared with the authorities.

"The Kenyan government has instructed donors to withhold funding directly to the Islamic humanitarian groups, and instead channel the money to the government itself, where we can access from," he claimed.

As a result, programs to help orphans across East Africa, which had previously received funding from charities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, had been scaled down. "We are now trying to fundraise locally," the representative said.

Adan Wachu, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, saw a conspiracy behind the move to police the charities. It was, he said, "a plan to create destitute Muslims across the globe."

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said he could not confirm or deny the allegations raised by the Young Muslim Association.