Rabat - An investigation by the Middle East Forum think tank has revealed that the Obama Administration approved a grant of $200,000 to the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), a financier of terror groups that has been linked with Al Qaeda.
Rabat – An investigation by the Middle East Forum think tank has revealed that the Obama Administration approved a grant of $200,000 to the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), a financier of terror groups that has been linked with Al Qaeda.
The investigation uncovered that despite the government’s knowledge of ISRA’s terrorist affiliation, the grant was approved. American taxpayer dollars were knowingly bestowed to the Al Qaeda affiliation, yet uncertainty still surrounds how ISRA was initially authorized as a grantee.
In a statement to i24 News, a USAID official said that the USAID partners had the “primary responsibility” to run checks on ISRA, but “did not identify ISRA as an organization subject to US sanctions when it made the initial award.”
When asked to comment on the funding, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “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.”
However, the USAID official told the press that since the Obama administration, the system and the bureaucratic process have changed. Officials overseeing the agreements have received additional training to avoid reoccurrences and to improve screening of grantees.
ISRA, a known funder of terror groups
In 2004 the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) listed the Khartoum-based ISRA as a terror-financing group. The designation was based upon ISRA’s strong links to Osama bin Laden and his organization Maktab al-Khidamat (MK) since 1997. By 2000, ISRA had raised $5 million for MK.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2014 awarded $723,405 to World Vision, an international evangelical charity for the purposes of “improving water, sanitation and hygiene and to increase food security in Sudan’s Blue Nile State.” Despite ISRA’s affiliations, included in the World Vision grant was $200 000 directed to the ISRA as a sub-grantee.
In November 2014, World Vision alerted USAID to the precarious status of ISRA, which had led USAID to “suspend all activities with the ISRA,” according to a USAID official.
Consequently, on January 23, 2015, OFAC confirmed that ISRA was an unapproved entity and denied World Vision the license to engage in transactions with ISRA. Despite OFAC’s ruling, World Vision was reluctant to cut ties with ISRA, arguing that with the refusal of their license and inability to distribute grants, their humanitarian efforts were jeopardized.
A stalemate followed between World Vision and OFAC, as both USAID and OFAC were unwilling to act on the issue. On May 7, 2015, after “close collaboration and consultations with the US Department of State,” OFAC took the untenable decision to issue a one-time license, which allowed the singular transfer of $115,000 to ISRA.
Assessing the system
The byzantine unfolding of events led to the conscious transfer of American taxpayer dollars to an Al Qaeda affiliate. A twofold system oversees grants from the US government: all grantees and sub-grantees must register under the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) and with the government’s System for Award Management (SAM) database.
The checks belie the ease with which ISRA was able to become a sub-grantee. ISRA was mysteriously assigned a DUNS number, which did not match with any organization in the SAM database.
The void of knowledge and bureaucratic confusion which surrounds ISRA and its mysterious listing reveals blatant flaws within the system.
By Isabella Wang