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US seeks seizure of mosques from Islamic foundation alleged to be Iran front

[JURIST] The US government on Thursday amended a complaint against Islamic charity the Alavi Foundation [organization website] to include a request for the seizure of assets, including four mosques, claiming that the organization is actually controlled by the Iranian government. The amended complaint [text], originally filed in 2008, alleges that Alavi is funneling assets to fund Iran's nuclear program in violation of 18 USC § 981 [text]. The government had already sought to seize Alavi's 40 percent interest in a New York office building, but the amended complaint adds properties in Maryland, Texas, California, New York, each of which contains an Islamic center or mosque, 100 acres of land in Virginia, and the funds in nine US bank accounts. Alavi has not released an official statement, but a lawyer for the organization did express disappointment [NYT report] at the developments.

The attempted seizure of assets from an organization that promotes Persian culture comes at a time of sensitive US-Iranian relations. The same day that the government filed the amended complaint against Alavi, US President Barack Obama renewed many long-standing sanctions [Reuters report] against Iran. Earlier this week, Iran's prosecutor general charged three US backpackers with espionage after they illegally entered the country [JURIST reports] in August. Last week, Obama observed the 30th anniversary [press release] of the taking of the US embassy in Tehran by reiterating US respect for Iran and calling for Iran to normalize relations for the benefit of its citizens.

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