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Reuters U.S. government arrests head of Muslim charity

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  • Snezana Lazovic
    http://sg.news.yahoo.com/reuters/asia-102882.html Wednesday May 1, 1:21 PM U.S. government arrests head of Muslim charity By Michael Conlon CHICAGO (Reuters) -
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2002
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      http://sg.news.yahoo.com/reuters/asia-102882.html

      Wednesday May 1, 1:21 PM

      U.S. government arrests head of Muslim charity

      By Michael Conlon

      CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. federal agents arrested the Syrian-born head of an
      international Muslim charity on Tuesday, saying he had long-time ties to
      Osama bin Laden and used the group's funds to support "terrorist activity".

      Enaam Arnaout, 39, executive director of the Benevolence International
      Foundation, was arrested at his home in the Chicago suburbs and charged with
      lying under oath in documents his group had filed in U.S. federal court, the
      Justice Department and the FBI said.

      The documents involved were filed to support a lawsuit the group brought
      against the U.S. government in January after its assets were seized as part
      of investigations into the September 11 attacks on America that killed
      approximately 3,000 people.

      At the time, the group said it was a "faith-based humanitarian organisation
      that engages in charitable work around the world" and "does not engage in or
      fund terrorist activity". Its headquarters are in Palos Hills, Illinois, and
      it has offices in Pakistan, Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Yemen,
      Bangladesh, Turkey, Georgia, China and elsewhere.

      In Tuesday's announcement, the U.S. government said the foundation was
      "engaged in the support of various persons and groups involved in military
      and terrorist type activity", including Saudi-born extremist bin Laden's al
      Qaeda network, blamed by the United States for the attacks on New York and
      Washington.

      It said al Qaeda has an "established practice" of using charities to fund
      terrorism.

      Arnaout appeared in court briefly and was ordered held pending a hearing
      next week. If convicted on the two perjury counts, he could be sentenced to
      prison for 10 years and fined $500,000. The foundation, also named in two
      counts of perjury, could be fined $1 million.


      INFORMANTS CITED

      The government's court filing cited four confidential informants who
      provided information about links between the charity and terrorism, one of
      whom said that Arnaout was considering fleeing the United States.

      According to the court filing, government wiretaps overheard a Pakistani
      representative of the charity calling Arnaout, who said he feared he might
      not be alive much longer and advised the representative to go to Kabul,
      Afghanistan.

      Arnaout's attorneys said their client had planned to go to Saudi Arabia to
      visit a sick relative.

      Peter Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, said the charity raised
      millions of dollars a year, ostensibly for needy causes, but diverted some
      funds to "support terrorist acts".

      Fitzgerald said it was important to note that "donors (to the charity) have
      done nothing wrong. This is a prosecution aimed at fraud and perjury. It is
      not a prosecution aimed at charities".

      The government said Arnaout had a relationship with bin Laden going back
      more than a decade, and that al Qaeda used the charity for "logistical
      support, including the movement of money to fund its operations." The
      charity also was accused of having contact with people "trying to obtain
      chemical and nuclear weapons on behalf of al Qaeda."

      A search of the charity's offices in Bosnia in March turned up firearms,
      military manuals and a cache of documents showing ties between the charity
      and al Qaeda, including photographs of both Arnaout and bin Laden in Bosnia
      and correspondence between the two that dated to 1989, the government said.
      Other photographs showed Arnaout carrying rifles and a rocket-propelled
      grenade launcher.

      The government said the foundation "has had direct dealing with
      representatives of the Chechen mujahideen (guerrillas) as well as
      Hezb-e-Islami, a military group operating at various times in Afghanistan
      and Azerbaijan. ... (The foundation) made efforts to provide the Chechen
      mujahideen with money, an X-ray machine and anti-mine boots, among other
      things."

      The government complaint listed four men who it said were in contact with
      Arnaout and his headquarters office:

      --Mamdouh Salim, a bin Laden associate charged with conspiracy to kill
      Americans who allegedly tried to get chemical and nuclear weapons for al
      Qaeda and whose 1998 visit to Bosnia was sponsored by the foundation.

      --Mohamed Bayazid, who it said tried to get uranium for al Qaeda to develop
      nuclear weapons.

      --Mohamad Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden's brother-in-law, who "has been closely
      linked to terrorist operatives who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center
      bombing" and was also involved in a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II.

      --Wali Khan Amin Shah, "a key participant in the plot in the Philippines to
      bomb 12 airliners over American cities in 1994" and who asked Arnaout to
      funnel weapons money to an Afghan field commander in the late 1980s.
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