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Jordanian officials probe charity's financial dealings


July 7, 2006

By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

Jordan's prosecutor general has started an investigation into alleged financial irregularities at the main charity of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, officials said last week.

A decision to close the charity would mark the toughest crackdown on the Islamist movement, the kingdom's largest opposition group, since the government got tough over the Muslim Brotherhood's stance against a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

Officials allege the charity, which is scrutinized by official auditors, finances the political activities of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The council of ministers ordered the prosecutor to look into the report compiled by government auditors into the violations of the Islamic Center Charity," an official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Under head of state King Abdullah II, Jordan is a pro-Western, moderate Arab state. It is a relatively open, secular society.

The charity, which runs a countrywide network of welfare centers with more than a billion dollars worth of assets, dispenses millions of dollars of aid to poor Jordanians ? activity that officials say is behind the popular appeal of the Islamists.

"The (prosecutor general's) move is aimed at undermining the Islamist movement," said Jamil Abu Baker, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The government, headed by former intelligence chief Marouf Bakheet, has been alarmed by the Muslim Brotherhood's more vocal approach since the militant Hamas group swept to power in Palestinian elections in January.

The Islamist Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing with 17 deputies in Jordan's 110-member parliament, has called for sweeping political reforms, including an elected government.

Authorities arrested four Islamist deputies last month after they visited the family of Jordanian-born al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike, to pay their respects.

The government said the visit was an affront to the feelings of most Jordanians, including relatives of 60 people killed in three hotel bombings in the capital Amman in November that al-Zarqawi claimed to have ordered.

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