Man accused of terror ties pleads not guilty

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ROANOKE (AP) A 27-year-old man who authorities say belongs to a Muslim terrorist organization pleaded not guilty to weapons charges yesterday in U.S. District Court.
Bilal Adullah Ben Benu is one of three persons from a secluded trailer community in Red House linked to the terrorist group al-Fuqra, according to authorities.
Prosecutor Tom Bondurant would not comment yesterday on Mr. Benu's connection to al-Fuqra. "We'll probably have something on Friday," when the court reviews a previous order to detain Mr. Benu without bond, Mr. Bondurant said.
Al-Fuqra, started 20 years ago in New York, is considered by authorities to be a violent Muslim sect involved in dozens of firebombings and killings across America and Canada. The organization's goal, according to a 1998 State Department report, is to "purify" Islam, even if that means using violence.
Mr. Benu's former neighbors, Vincente Pierre and Traci Upshur, were convicted in December on weapons charges and of making false statements to authorities. They are scheduled to be sentenced in April.
Mr. Benu, Pierre and Upshur were not connected to the September 11 terrorist attacks, prosecutors said. All three, however, were indicted Sept. 18 as part of a mandate by the Justice Department for quick action against potential terrorist threats.
Residents of the trailer community say that al-Fuqra is a nonexistent organization and assert that they are victims of religious and racial prejudice.
Mr. Benu's attorney, Melissa Friedman, would not comment yesterday.
Pierre, 45, also was charged in 1992 with several others living in a suspected al-Fuqra compound in Buena Vista, Colo. Prosecutors accused the group of firebombing a Hare Krishna temple in 1984 and of conspiracy to murder a Muslim cleric in 1990. One member was convicted on charges related to the temple-bombing case. Three were convicted, and two pleaded guilty in the murder case.
Pierre, whom authorities considered the least involved in the group, was charged with workers' compensation fraud, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to two years' probation.

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