Pakistan leader linked to suspect charity

Government spokesman denies any association

War On Terrorism

October 14, 2001|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Men armed with submachine guns stood guard yesterday outside the two-story beige building housing the offices of the Rabita Trust here. A bearded man wearing a vest and a flowing shirt and baggy pants said that no one inside was granting interviews.

"I can't say anything," said the man, before disappearing back into the offices.

It was one day after the U.S. Treasury Department named the organization's office in the Pakistani city of Lahore as being among 39 individuals and groups with suspected terrorist ties. The United States vowed to seize the assets of all those on the list as part of the effort to cut off financial support for terrorist organizations.

The trust is led by Wa'el Hamza Jalaidan, whom the Bush administration has identified as a figure who helped Osama bin Laden establish the terrorist network al-Qaida. Jalaidan is also said to be the logistics chief of bin Laden's organization.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has served on Rabita's board, and Bush administration officials reportedly urged him to resign before it issued its expanded list of suspect charities and individuals. But Pakistani government spokesman Gen. Rashid Quereshi yesterday denied that the president was associated with the organization and said that he had never heard of it.

"I don't know of any Rabita Trust, and there is no question President Musharraf has no connection," Quereshi said in a phone interview. "How does the president of Pakistan become a member of someone's board? That's ridiculous."

Officials from Pakistan's Foreign Office also claimed not to have heard of Rabita, which shares a building with the Muslim World League. Foreign Office spokesman Riaz Mohammad Khan said the government would look into the U.S. allegations.

Rabita, which means "league" in Arabic, was founded in 1962, according to its Web site, and is headquartered in Saudi Arabia. Its goals, according to the Web site, are "to defend Islamic causes in a manner that safeguards the interests and aspirations of Muslims, solves their problems, refutes false allegations against Islam, and repels inimical trends and dogma which the enemies of Islam seek to exploit in order to destroy the unity of Muslims and to sow seeds of doubt in our Muslim brethren."

"Their activities are not very open," said Javed Siddiq, an editor and reporter at Nawa-I-Waqt, one of the country's leading Urdu language newspapers. "They don't hold briefings for journalists. They don't take journalists into Afghanistan to give them an idea of what kind of aid work they are doing."

Rabita has provided monthly scholarships to foreign students at Islamabad's International Islamic University, an institution that attracts Muslim students from around the world. Rabita provides $80 monthly stipends to bachelor's degree candidates from Central Asia and nations where Muslims are a minority.

A scholarship recipient from Tajikistan said yesterday that he contacted Rabita's office about the U.S. Treasury Department report and that the organization denied the American accusations. "They said there was no need to worry about this," said the student, who asked that his name not be used. "The news is not correct."

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