- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

ROANOKE (AP) A Muslim man federal authorities had linked to a terrorist group was released from jail on gun charges after pointing out a discrepancy in the legal case against him.
Bilal Adulah ben Benu, 28, was freed from the Roanoke City Jail on Monday, nearly a year after he was indicted on charges of illegally possessing guns and ammunition and transporting them across state lines.
At the time, the Charlotte County man was linked by federal authorities to a violent Islamic sect called al-Fuqra, which authorities suspected of dozens of bombings, murders and arson attacks across the country and in Canada.
U.S. Attorney John Brownlee called Mr. Benu's arrest part of the Department of Justice's new commitment to "prevent first and prosecute second" following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Benu pleaded no contest to the gun charges in federal court in Lynchburg in April.
Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a crime punishable by a sentence exceeding one year from buying or possessing firearms.
Mr. Benu's attorney, Tony Anderson, argued that despite his client's 1992 conviction for crack cocaine possession in Maryland, he still could legally buy guns because his prison sentence had been suspended and he had retained his civil rights, such as the right to vote.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon dismissed Mr. Anderson's argument and was preparing to sentence Benu, but changed his mind after receiving a letter from Mr. Benu in jail in which he argued that the Maryland gun law was different at the time of his conviction.
Prosecutor Tom Bondurant said Monday that "when you figure it all out, Benu was right."
"I don't care who he belongs to," he said. "If he's not liable under the law, he should be set free."
For several years, authorities have monitored the fenced-in trailer community near Red House where Mr. Benu lived, claiming the compound served as a hide-out for members of al-Fuqra.
The group, led by a Pakistani cleric named Sheik Mubarik Gilani, is not suspected of taking part in the September 11 terrorist attacks. But the organization's goal, according to a 1998 State Department report, is to "purify" Islam, even if that means using violence.
Two of Mr. Benu's neighbors, Vincente Pierre and Traci Upshur, also were suspected of having ties to al-Fuqra. They were sentenced on similar gun charges in April.
Residents of the Red House community say that they are a part of the organization Muslims of the Americas, and that they are peaceful people who have no connection with terrorism.