Outside the Bridgeview charity, a bright sign reads: "Compassion in Action Throughout the World."
But federal investigators are examining whether the $5 million-a-year Global Relief Foundation belongs on a list of charities suspected of supporting global terrorism.
FBI and Jordanian intelligence agents tried to question the charity's co-founder and former treasurer about his fundraising and associates, but he refused to answer questions and soon left the U.S., according to his attorney.
Earlier this week, Treasury Department officials said they are considering whether to freeze Global Relief's assets as part of the U.S. effort to choke off the finances of Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Global Relief attorney Ashraf Nubani said the group has no ties to terrorism or bin Laden. The investigation into Global Relief and other Islamic charities is part of a "smear campaign" to discourage Muslims from donating to legitimate groups, Nubani said.
In a Bridgeview industrial park, Global Relief continues to operate from a low-slung brick building with a U.S. flag on the front lawn. Inside, a small staff raises money through mosque appeals and direct mail campaigns. One fundraising video depicts maimed and bloody corpses as it describes atrocities by Indian soldiers against Muslims in Kashmir, and it features a young refugee boy who declares he will "become a freedom fighter and fight for Kashmir's independence."
For Global Relief, the renewed federal interest is another trip down an unwelcome road.
Law enforcement agencies would not comment and no evidence has been made public linking the charity to terrorism. Records in Texas show tenuous connections between Global Relief's former treasurer and a Texas imam linked to bin Laden.
A mid-1990s Global Relief list of audiotapes for sale, made available by investigative journalist Steven Emerson, shows the charity was touting a tape that explained the ideas of bin Laden's now-deceased mentor, Abdullah Azzam, a Muslim scholar and military figure.
Nubani said there was nothing untoward about the charity's history and activities. "In times like this, things that normally would be innocent will be viewed in the worst possible way," he said.
Since 1999, the U.S. Treasury Department has seized more than $350 million in assets from people, companies and charities linked to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, a senior Treasury official said.
The ongoing Treasury investigation of terrorism financing has gained momentum since Sept. 24, when the Bush administration froze the assets of 27 groups and individuals linked to bin Laden. Using classified information, Treasury is now working with the White House and the CIA, FBI and State and Justice Departments to examine whether additional companies and people supported terrorism through financial schemes stretching around the world.
A Treasury official said the initial list of 27 will be expanded within the next week, and Global Relief is one of those "under consideration."
With a total of only 12 employees, and satellite offices in Pakistan, Belgium and France, the charity funds clinics in the Israeli-occupied territories and refugee camps in Kosovo. It has raised more than $1.8 million for mosques and Muslim schools in the U.S. It is one of a small number of Islamic charities allowed inside Afghanistan by the Taliban administration, which has shut down non-Islamic aid organizations.
Nubani said FBI agents interviewed the group's executive director, Mohamed Chehade, a year ago but the contact was "casual."
"Nothing has ever come to fruition as far as Global Relief is concerned," he said.
The FBI called Nubani again shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon but did not conduct further interviews, Nubani said. The contact was part of the government's "fishing expedition," he said. "They realize there's nothing there."
Nubani said he could offer no information about former Global Relief director Hazem M. Ragab, who left the U.S. last year after the FBI attempted to question him.
Nubani would only say that Ragab was instrumental in the group "early on" but "doesn't play any role in the organization now."