The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
September 26, 2001 | Michael Kranish, and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON – A self- described Islamic relief agency with a Boston address appears to be linked to a group cited this week by President Bush as being a major financial conduit for terrorist activities. The group – al- Kifah, or The Struggle – was reportedly financed in large part by Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The group’s main contact, according to a Web page still active on the Internet, is Maged Elmenshawy, a former MIT student now living in Cairo. His father said in a telephone interview last night that Elmenshawy left Boston 12 years ago and worked with the group raising money for orphans, not terrorists.
“I am sure he has no role in that center,” the father, Mohamed Elmenshawy, said from his Baltimore home. He added that his son may have been a contact but not a key official. The father said he did not have a current phone number for his son and had not yet talked to him about the matter.
Mohamed Elmenshawy said he cried when he watched the news of the terrorist attacks. “This was definitely against Islam,” he said.
The al-Kifah organization was named in a 1998 federal indictment in New York as being the cornerstone of bin Laden’s terrorist network. The indictment singles out a Brooklyn office for playing a prominent role.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jonathon M. Winer said yesterday that tracking the activities of the Boston office “could be important to determine whether a similar role was played in Boston.”
Jessica Freeland – co-owner of the Muslim Family Network, which hosts a Web page for the Boston group – said in a telephone interview that she assumes the group is connected to the one cited by Bush yesterday.
Freeland said the Web page would not be taken down unless the US government presents evidence that the group finances terrorism. So far, she said, she is unconvinced by Bush’s statements. She said she has no complaints about the Boston group, and she said she believes the solicited money is going to orphans.
Bush said Monday that the group, also known as Makhtab al- Khidamat, was a charitable front for raising money that financed terrorism. The group is known to have had offices across the country during the 1980s, when it raised money and recruited soldiers for the Afghanistan resistance fighters against the Soviet Union.
Later, the group raised money for Muslims in Bosnia. At least one office, the al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, was tied to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The Boston group used an identical name, al-Kifah Refugee Center. But the center’s address – 1085 Commonwealth Ave, Suite 124 – leads to a Mail Boxes Etc. store. A worker there declined to give any information about who rented the mail box, but said many had visited the store asking similar questions.
Maged Elmenshawy graduated from MIT in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics. While at MIT, he lived in a dormitory at 500 Memorial Drive that houses around 200 students. His father said he moved to Cairo last month and is working there as an engineer.
The Web page made no reference to Afghanistan. Instead, the undated page solicited support for the orphans and widows of Muslims in Bosnia.
“There is a unique opportunity provided by al-Kifah Refugee Center in Boston, Massachusetts,” the Web page says. “It is an Islamic relief agency and is supporting a sponsorship program for Bosnian orphans and widows.”
The Web site suggests that donors allow money to be deducted from a checking account every month.
Imam Talal Eid, religious director of the Islamic Center of New England, said that young Muslim men from all over the world, including many from the Boston area, went to Afghanistan to fight or lend their support to their religious brethren against the Soviet invaders.
Some of them also traveled to Bosnia and later to Chechnya during the 1990s, when Muslims were under attack there. Eid said he was unaware of the existence of al-Kifah in Boston. For Moslems in the area who wanted to donate to Bosnian relief, the Islamic Circle of North America, an umbrella group that represents many Islamic organizations, has established a fund for Bosnian relief, he said.