By Cillian Zeal
Few nations have felt the sting of Islamism as acutely as Sudan. When the Second Sudanese Civil War started in 1983 (just 11 years removed from the First Sudanese Civil War), the east African nation was already one of the more despairing corners on God’s green earth.
Yet, the regime in Khartoum felt that what its citizens really needed — instead of economic development or jobs or anything of that ilk — was the imposition of Shariah law. And when the mostly-Christian south didn’t resign themselves to the legally codified strictures of the Quran and Hadith, among other non-religious issues of exploitation that were deeply unpopular in that region of the world, the government decided to embark on a conflict that lasted over 20 years and resulted in the highest death count of any war since World War II.
Alas, not so much — at least where the Obama administration is concerned.
“The Middle East Forum has discovered that the Obama administration approved a grant of $200,000 of taxpayer money to an al-Qaeda affiliate in Sudan — a decade after the U.S. Treasury designated it as a terrorist-financing organization,” Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum wrote in a piece for National Review this week. “More stunningly, government officials specifically authorized the release of at least $115,000 of this grant even after learning that it was a designated terror organization.”
The funds in question were distributed by an interlocutor to the Islamic Relief Agency or ISRA — a Khartoum-based organization also known as the Islamic African Relief Agency that had links to Osama bin Laden and Maktab al-Khidamat.
Maktab al-Khidamat was an Afghani fundraising organization that was the progenitor of al-Qaida. ISRA had raised more than $5 million for Maktab al-Khidamat by 2000, in addition to helping “to secure safe harbor for” bin Laden when things went awry.
In October 2004, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated ISRA a terrorist finance group, meaning (obviously) it shouldn’t be receiving any aid from any American, much less their government. However, a July 2014 award of $723,405 to evangelical group World Vision Inc. to “improve water, sanitation and hygiene and to increase food security in Sudan’s Blue Nile state” included $200,000 for ISRA.
When the U.S. Agency for International Development had been alerted to the fact that ISRA was probably on the terror list by World Vision, they started an assessment of the situation and warned the group to “suspend all activities with ISRA.” However, World Vision was apparently unhappy with this, saying that the assessment was taking too much time and that ISRA “had performed excellent work” for the evangelical group and that the assessment was “putting contractual relationships in limbo for such a long period is putting a significant strain” with their relationship with officialdom in Khartoum, since ISRA also has close contacts with the Sudanese government.
“World Vision’s statement stunned USAID officials, who complained that World Vision’s behavior ‘doesn’t make sense,’” Westrop writes. “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.’”
By January 2015, the Treasury Department’s OFAC had ruled that ISRA was indeed a terrorist organization, meaning World Vision would have to cut ties with them. Instead of realizing they were in bed with an organization that had helped create al-Qaida and backing away, World Vision wrote to Obama administration USAID official Jeremy Konyndyk, imploring him for a new contract to pay ISRA for “monies owed for work performed” and said that “their whole program will be jeopardized.”
There’s a lot of machinations behind the scenes here, but here’s the condensed version: the Obama administration eventually approved a new contract for ISRA after “close collaboration and consultations with the Department of State,” which World Vision said came as a “great relief as ISRA had become restive and had threatened legal action, which would have damaged our reputation and standing in Sudan.”
In other words, the Obama administration acted on behalf of an organization which in turn was willing to act on behalf of an organization with close ties to al-Qaida and the mephitic Sudanese regime.
The Obama administration has a long and storied history of ignoring extremism, from the Islamic State group to Afghanistan to Africa, where groups like Boko Haram barely made the administration’s radar. Now, we discover that the administration was giving money to a group that actively fundraised for al-Qaida in a country that’s already been devastated by Islamism.
Nineteen months on, we’re still dealing with that ugly legacy — and so, unfortunately, is the rest of the world.
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