- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) Enaam Arnaout says his charity raised millions of dollars to help widows, orphans and the poor in Muslim lands ravaged by war and famine.
Prosecutors say he duped well-meaning U.S. Muslims into giving to a charity that was secretly used to support Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and other terrorism groups.
Mr. Arnaout, a U.S. citizen born in Syria, faces racketeering and fraud charges in what would be the first U.S. trial since the September 11 terror attacks of anyone with purported links to bin Laden. Jury selection was scheduled to begin today.
Mr. Arnaout, 40, is not accused of having anything to do with the September 11 attacks or other acts of terrorism. But prosecutors said they hope to present evidence showing contacts between Mr. Arnaout and al Qaeda dating to the late 1980s to bolster their case that he supported the network, as well as Chechen rebels fighting the Russian army, and armed violence in Bosnia.
If convicted, Mr. Arnaout could be sentenced to 90 years in prison without parole.
Experts say the case could be pivital in the legal war on al Qaeda.
"This is very important because one of the principal ways al Qaeda raises money around the world is through charitable giving," said William Wechsler, a Clinton administration authority on terrorism.
Mr. Arnaout, who has been in custody since April, denies ever raising money for terrorists. He said everything Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation did was aimed at providing humanitarian aid to the needy in Muslim countries.
Defense attorney Joseph Duffy said Mr. Arnaout is the victim of an overzealous hunt for terrorists.
The defense conceded that Mr. Arnaout might have known bin Laden years ago in Afghanistan, but he noted that in those days both bin Laden and the United States sided with Afghan freedom fighters trying to expel the Soviet army.
"The United States intends to try Enaam Arnaout not for acts he committed in violation of U.S. laws but rather for associations he had over a decade ago," defense attorneys said in recently filed court papers.
U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon has indicated that she may reject some prosecution documents that "are about events long ago and do not reflect Arnaout's conduct or any relationship with his charity."

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