Reuters U.S. government arrests head of Muslim charity
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
It said al Qaeda has an "established practice" of using charities to fund
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.
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,
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
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
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
--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.