EUGENE, Ore. (AP) – A missing passport and questions about whether he supports radical Islamic doctrine will keep the co-founder of a defunct Islamic charity in jail at
least another two weeks after he voluntarily returned to face tax fraud and conspiracy charges.
Pirouz Sedaghaty, 49, also known as Pete Seda, left the country in 2003 during
an investigation that resulted in a federal grand jury indictment in February 2005, accusing him of helping to smuggle $150,000 out of the country to aid Muslim fighters in Chechnya.
He returned exactly one week ago, on the same day that the 9th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals was hearing arguments about warrantless wiretapping of the U.S. chapter of
the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation that Sedaghaty co-founded in the Southern Oregon town of
Ashland in 1997.
Sedaghaty pleaded not guilty to the tax and conspiracy charges last week, and
asked to be released pending trial.
But the U.S. Attorney’s office asked that he be held in custody, arguing he is
a flight risk, leading to a lengthy detention hearing on Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin.
The judge said he was being asked to decide whether religious beliefs could be
the basis for keeping a person in jail, comparing it to whether a devout Christian opposed to abortion posed a danger to the community if he or she believed abortion should be prevented by any means possible, including violence.
“Under those circumstances it’s appropriate to ask if a person believes in using violent means,” Coffin said, adding that he did not want “to take on the role of censor.”
Coffin said he expected to decide at the next hearing, in two weeks, whether to
order Sedaghaty to remain in custody until trial or grant a conditional release.
Chris Cardani, the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, argued that
Sedaghaty promoted a radical version of Islam based in Saudi Arabia known as Wahabbism,
making him a danger because he could incite radical followers to acts of violence – even though he did not believe that Sedaghaty himself posed a danger.
“Are you telling me that you think he is a Trojan horse?” Coffin asked Cardani.
“Perhaps,” Cardani replied.
He noted that Sedaghaty, a U.S. citizen who was born in Iran, had returned
to the United States on a duplicate U.S. passport, and had not surrendered his Iranian passport until he appeared in court Wednesday.
Cardani said that raised suspicions about where Sedaghaty had traveled the past
four years, noting he had lived in Syria, Iran and the United Arab Emirates at different times.
Cardani said Sedaghaty offered no explanation about how he supported himself,
noting he had trouble finding work and apparently had to live on less than $80,000 from the sale of a house in Ashland for more than four years.
Matasar also called an expert witness, As’ad AbuKhalil, a California State University, Stanislaus, professor who disputed the government’s claim that Sedaghaty supported radical Islamic doctrine.
AbuKhalil said Saudi wealth is used to promote Wahabbism worldwide by funding
mosques and charities, and distributing a Saudi version of the Quran called the “nobel Quran” that has a more militant interpretation of its teachings.
That’s “noble,” and the Qur’an is often referred to as the “Noble Qur’an” (including at USC’s Muslim Student Association Qur’an site) or “Qur’an Sharif.” And the text of the scriptures (always accompanied by the Arabic version, of course) is the same in any event, any accompanying commentary notwithstanding.
Muslims seeking to perform charity work – one of the five pillars of Islam – often are forced to accept Saudi money in order to pay for buildings or supplies, and distribute the Saudi version of the Quran because it is typically the only free version available.
Forced? Or just not inclined to look elsewhere?
“The Saudis have been proven to have misused some of these charities for their
own nefarious purposes,” AbuKhalil said.
But a witness for the government, author Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a former Al-
Haramain worker in Ashland, said the charity promoted radical Islamic doctrine by distributing the “noble Quran” to U.S. prison inmates.
He noted that version supports violent jihad, or holy war, although he said that Sedaghaty had been upset by the embassy bombings and the link to militant Muslims.