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Amid ever-higher tension with Iran, the Obama administration made a bold legal swipe at Tehran this week that could send shock waves through the Muslim world. In what appears to be an unprecedented move, the Department of Justice filed notice in federal court in New York on Thursday that the government intends to seize the assets of a foundation with alleged links to the Iranian government, including several mosques around the country.
The department's action against the Alavi Foundation in U.S. District Court in Manhattan expands a forfeiture proceeding which began last December against the Assa Corp., a part-owner of a 36-story high-rise on Fifth Avenue. But in what may be a first, the government also seeks to seize additional properties in New York, Maryland, Texas, Virginia and California, some of which house mosques, Islamic centers and schools.
The flexing of the Administration's emergency economic powers sends a clear signal to Tehran that Obama won't tolerate what Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, described as effectively an American front for the Government of Iran. Washington alleges that the foundation launders money back into Bank Melli, the state bank of Iran, secretly supporting Iran's illegal activities in the process.
But the actions — particularly the seizure of the four mosques in New York, Maryland, California and Texas — could also sour the Muslim world toward Obama. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington advocacy group for American Muslims and itself often a target of criticism from conservatives, warned that the move could constitute a chilling effect on religion, and send a very negative message not only to people of faith, particularly American Muslims, but to Muslims worldwide. "Already we're seeing around the Muslim world headlines saying the United States government seizes American mosques," he said.