News & Politics

Obama Admin Knowingly Gave U.S. Taxpayer Money to Al-Qaeda Affiliate

Sudanese men chants slogans in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Obama administration knowingly gave U.S. taxpayer money to an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Sudan, a Middle East think tank has reported.

In February 2014, according to the Middle East Forum (MEF), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) gave $200,000 total to the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) as part of a USAID-authorized grant of $723,405 to World Vision — an evangelical international charity working in Sudan. The funds were intended to “improve water, sanitation and hygiene and to increase food security in Sudan’s Blue Nile state.”

Stunningly, more than half of the money was transferred to ISRA after USAID had been told that it was a designated global terror entity on the U.S. sanctions list. At the time, ISRA’s enormous international terror network was even known to the public, as it was often in the headlines.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Khartoum-based agency as a terror-financing organization in September of 2004 because of its links to Osama bin Laden, his organization Maktab al-Khidamat (MK), and other terrorist groups including Hamas.

Independent sources confirmed to i24NEWS that USAID discontinued the funds “as soon as it became clear that ISRA was a proscribed group.”

But shockingly, the U.S. Treasury “issued a special license permitting a one-time $125,000 transfer to ISRA” after the issue was brought to their attention.

A USAID official told MEF that World Vision had alerted it in November 2014 to ISRA’s possible inclusion on the terror list. USAID reportedly then instructed World Vision to “suspend all activities with ISRA,” and gave the State Department, OFAC, and USAID’s Office of the Inspector General a heads-up. USAID and World Vision then waited to hear back from OFAC on whether ISRA was a designated terror organization or not:

USAID emails obtained by the Middle East Forum reveal that in January 2015, World Vision was growing unhappy while waiting for OFAC’s assessment. Mark Smith, World Vision’s senior director of humanitarian and emergency affairs, wrote to USAID, stating that the Islamic Relief Agency “had performed excellent work” for World Vision in the past, and that “putting contractual relationships in limbo for such a long period is putting a significant strain” on World Vision’s relationship with the Sudanese regime. Smith also revealed that World Vision had submitted a notice to OFAC indicating its “intention to restart work with [ISRA] and to transact with [ISRA]” if OFAC did not respond within a week.

World Vision’s statement stunned USAID officials, who complained that World Vision’s behavior “doesn’t make sense.” USAID official Daniel Holmberg emailed a colleague: “If they actually said that they wanted to resume work with ISRA, while knowing that it was 99% likely that ISRA was on the list then I am concerned about our partnership with them, and whether it should continue.”

On January 23, OFAC confirmed that ISRA was a sanctioned entity and denied World Vision “a license to engage in transactions with [ISRA].” Mark Smith and World Vision’s country program director in Sudan expressed their disappointment, stating that they were in discussions with ISRA as well as the Sudanese regime’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, which regulates the activities of international charities in Sudan.

Despite this ruling, World Vision wrote to OFAC and Obama administration USAID official Jeremy Konyndyk in February of 2015 to apply to OFAC for a new license to pay ISRA “monies owed for work performed.” USAID’s mission director for Sudan told MEF that World Vision argued that if they did not pay ISRA, “their whole program will be jeopardized.”

World Vision waited on pins and needles until May 7, 2015, when after “close collaboration and consultations with the Department of State,” OFAC issued a license to World Vision International authorizing “a one-time transfer of approximately $125,000 to ISRA,” of which “$115,000 was for services performed under the sub-award with USAID” and $10,000 was “for an unrelated funding arrangement between Irish Aid and World Vision”:

An unnamed World Vision official described the decision as a “great relief as ISRA had become restive and had threatened legal action, which would have damaged our reputation and standing in Sudan.” Senior USAID official Charles Wanjue wrote to colleagues: “Good news and a great relief, really!” In August 2015, USAID official Daniel Holmberg even told a State Department official that he had been approached by the executive director of ISRA, and requested guidance on helping ISRA remove itself from the U.S. government’s terror list.

MEF’s Sam Westrop reported at National Review:

It is no secret that the Obama administration sought to downplay the threat of Islamism, and even to coopt some Islamist movements to promote its agenda. In its foreign policy, the administration expressed support for Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, while domestically, the White House invited Islamists to design the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program. It is difficult to argue that these efforts were the product of anything but great naivete and political dogma. Is it possible that this combination extended to deliberately funding an al-Qaeda affiliate?

“At that point it’s difficult to say this is merely naivete. At that point it seems like complicity,”  Westrop told i24News: