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US authorities to seize 4 mosques, tower with links to Iran

November 13, 2009 14:25 IST

US federal authorities were in the process of seizing four mosques and a 36-storey skyscraper in Manhattan that are owned by a nonprofit Muslim organisation long suspected of having ties to the Iranian government.

In what could prove to be one of the biggest counter-terrorism seizures in the US history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court seeking the forfeiture of more than $ 500 million (nearly Rs 23,200 million) in assets of the Alavi Foundation and an alleged front company. The properties targeted are the Islamic Education Center of Greater Houston, Islamic centers in New York City, Maryland and California, more than 100 acres in Virginia and the 36-story office tower called the Piaget building on Fifth Avenue in New York.

"For two decades, the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws," US attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

"As today's complaint alleges in great detail, the Alavi Foundation has effectively been a front for the government of Iran," he said.

New York prosecutors are charging Alavi Foundation for funnelling money back to Iran through the company Assa, which went to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli that is suspected of being engaged in Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

The mosques and the office tower will remain open, while the case in the federal court in New York works its way through court, which is expected to take some time.

Faheem Kazimi, chairman of the board of directors of Houston's Islamic Education Center, said the centre leases its building from Alavi Foundation and no other connection exists.

"We just heard the news. The Islamic Education Center is a nonprofit independent organisation, not affiliated with any other group... We are completely independent," Kazimi said.

The action against the Shia mosques could inflame relations between the US government and American Muslims, many of who are fearful of a backlash after last week's Fort Hood army base shooting, blamed on a Muslim American Major.

On its website, the Alavi Foundation describes itself as "a private not-for-profit organisation devoted to the promotion and support of Islamic culture and Persian language, literature and civilization".

Its works includes donation to Persian schools, loans to Islamic organisations, free distribution of Islamic books, disaster relief work, supporting the arts and student loans. In a case filed last year, prosecutors wanted to seize Assa Corporation's 40 percent stake in the skyscraper commissioned by the Shah of Iran in 1979.

The present case is to seize Alavi's remaining 60 percent of the skyscraper, as well as its other properties including the mosques.

Farshi Jahedi, the president of the foundation, was arrested last year for allegedly trying to destroy documents after being called to the court. He has denied the charges and the case is pending.
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