- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) A Charlotte County man arrested in connection with a federal terrorism dragnet pleaded no contest to gun charges yesterday in federal court.
Bilal Adulah ben Benu, 28, was accused of lying about a previous drug conviction in order to buy weapons at a Spout Spring gun store. Authorities charged him with illegally possessing firearms and ammunition and taking them across state lines.
In court, defense attorney Tony Anderson did not dispute that Benu bought firearms and AK-47 ammunition. But Mr. Anderson said that despite Benu's 1992 conviction for crack cocaine possession in Maryland, he still could legally buy guns because he did not receive a prison term.
Benu received a suspended sentence for the drug offense, Mr. Anderson said, so Benu's right to possess firearms was never revoked.
"You cannot lose what was never taken," Mr. Anderson said after the hearing.
Prosecutor Tom Bondurant disagreed. Federal law prohibits anyone convicted of a crime punishable by a sentence exceeding one year from buying or possessing firearms, he said.
In addition, Mr. Bondurant said, Benu illegally wrote on a gun application that he had no prior convictions.
"So, he still lied," Mr. Bondurant said after the hearing.
U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon said he will consider Mr. Anderson's arguments during the next few months. No new court date was set. Benu had been scheduled for a jury trial that was to begin yesterday.
For several years, authorities have been monitoring the remote trailer community near Red House where Benu lived.
Authorities said the fenced-in compound has served as a hideout for members of a violent Muslim sect called al-Fuqra.
The group is not suspected of taking part in the September 11 terrorist attacks. But al-Fuqra operatives are believed to have been involved in dozens of firebombings and murders throughout the United States and Canada.
The organization's goal, according to a 1998 State Department report, is to "purify" Islam, even if that means using violence.
Mr. Bondurant said that Benu considers himself a "holy warrior" and participated in paramilitary training camps sponsored by al-Fuqra in New York.
Two of Benu's neighbors, Vincente Pierre and Traci Upshur, received prison sentences April 5 after being convicted of similar charges.

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