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Old October 10th, 2002, 12:47 PM
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Arrow Head of U.S. Muslim Charity Indicted

Head of U.S. Muslim Charity Indicted
Wed Oct 9, 7:23 PM ET
By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The head of a U.S. Muslim charity was charged on Wednesday with helping terrorists and deceiving donors by funneling funds to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda network and other militant groups, prosecutors said.

Syrian-born Enaam Arnaout, who has been in custody since April, engaged in a "multinational criminal enterprise that for a decade used charitable contributions of innocent Americans -- Muslims, non-Muslims and corporations alike -- to support al Qaeda" as well as turmoil in Chechnya (news - web sites) and violence in Bosnia, the Justice Department (news - web sites) said.

"It is sinister to prey on good hearts to fund the works of evil," Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) told a Chicago news conference, saying the Muslim charity exploited the Islamic principle of giving, called zakat.

The seven-count indictment alleged Arnaout, 40, directed his charity, Benevolence International Foundation, to commingle millions of dollars of donations to hide the true purposes of the money. The charity's suburban Chicago headquarters was raided and its assets frozen last December as part of the U.S.-led campaign to choke off funding for militant groups after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The money laundering included wire transfers of $1.4 million to the charity's Chicago-area offices from an account at the Union Bank of Switzerland between June and September, 2001, the indictment alleged.

In November, Arnaout discussed with a Bosnian colleague creating "a new list of orphans" to disguise the charity's financial support for an injured fighter, the indictment said.

After the September attacks, Arnaout contacted the charity's Saudi founder, Adel Batterjee, to tell him he was being watched and was later advised to leave for Saudi Arabia.

Some of the charges related to earlier perjury charges against Arnaout and the charity that described his links with a wide range of Muslim militants including bin Laden, whose al Qaeda network U.S. authorities believe was behind the attacks.


Among a cache of documents recovered in a March raid on the charity's Bosnian offices were 1980s-era photographs purporting to show Arnaout shouldering weapons at an Afghan camp also visited by bin Laden. Newspaper clippings found in the March raid showed the two pictured together, the indictment said.

The indictment alleged that in the late 1980s, Arnaout became "director of communications" at al Qaeda's al Masada camp in Jaji, Afghanistan (news - web sites). In 1991, he helped acquire and distribute hundreds of rockets, mortars and bombs, it said.

Ashcroft said that for the first time, notes found in the Bosnia raid gave authorities proof of the August 1988, meetings at which al Qaeda was formed and the text of a loyalty oath pledged by members.

"It is chilling that the origins of al Qaeda were found in a charity claiming to do good," Ashcroft said.

The documents also contained personnel files of mujahideen fighters trained under bin Laden's direction and lists of donors and sponsors, which Ashcroft said would be sifted to determine who might have knowingly sought to fund terrorism.

"The announcement today makes a mockery of the war on terrorism," said Arnaout's lawyer, Joseph Duffy.

"The war on terrorism has degenerated into paranoia," where any Arab with even a tenuous connection with those allegedly involved in terrorism can be arrested and charged, he said.

Arnaout had previously been charged only with lying in a court filing, which asked that the charity's assets be unfrozen because it had not funded "terrorist activity."

Arnaout was charged with racketeering, money laundering, mail and wire fraud and other illegal activities to fraudulently obtain charitable donations.

He could be sentenced to 90 years in jail with no possibility of parole if found guilty.
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