- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

The leader of a Chicago-based charity linked by Attorney General John Ashcroft to Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist network pleaded guilty yesterday to racketeering charges, but denied any involvement with international terrorism.
Enaam M. Arnaout, executive director of the Benevolence International Foundation, entered the plea in federal court in Chicago as U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon prepared for jury selection for a pending trial on fraud, racketeering and money-laundering charges in a seven-count Oct. 9 indictment.
The government had accused Arnaout of diverting donations to support terrorists, including bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, but agreed to drop all but one count of the indictment conspiracy to engage in a racketeering enterprise in exchange for his guilty plea.
In a 12-page plea agreement, Arnaout faces 20 years in prison, although his cooperation in ongoing investigations could result in sentence reductions. Under the original indictment, he could have received 90 years without the possibility of parole. No sentencing date has been set.
"We are prepared to prove that he did support al Qaeda when that issue is addressed at sentencing," Mr. Ashcroft said.
Arnaout, in a statement, said he pleaded guilty because he questioned whether he could get a "fair and impartial" trial in this country. He admitted soliciting funds to "support fighters overseas," buying boots for rebels fighting Russian troops in Chechnya and purchasing boots, tents and an ambulance for "use by soldiers in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
He also acknowledged telling donors, many of them American Muslims, that their money was helping only widows, orphans, refugees and the poor.
"We are confident that if the defendant follows through on his commitment to cooperate truthfully, that today's guilty plea will be a beginning, not an end, of a sustained effort to make sure that violence overseas is not funded from Chicago," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office prosecuted the case.
Mr. Ashcroft, in personally announcing the indictment in Chicago, accused Arnaout of using the tax-exempt charity to support international terrorists. He said documents found in the charity's Bosnia-Herzegovina office tied Arnaout to bin Laden.
He said Arnaout fraudulently diverted donations from Muslim-Americans, U.S. corporations and other donors for more than a decade to support al Qaeda and other groups engaged in armed violence, noting that the al Qaeda organization relied on charities to transfer money and provide cover for its members and associates.
The indictment said Arnaout and others in Bosnia-Herzegovina sought to erase bin Laden documents, photographs, organizational charts, notes of meetings when al Qaeda was formed, personnel files of the mujahideen trained in Afghanistan, and other papers purportedly showing Arnaout's involvement in the distribution of rockets, mortars, bombs and dynamite.
Other documents found in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the indictment said, included a list of wealthy Saudi Arabian sponsors with references to bin Laden and Adel Batterjee, founder of the Benevolence International Foundation, and papers saying Arnaout served as director of communications at a mujahideen camp in Afghanistan under bin Laden.
Arnaout, 41, a Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, initially was accused of conspiracy to engage in a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, money laundering, and mail and wire fraud.
He has been in custody since April on a criminal complaint accusing him of lying about the charity's links to terrorism.
Prosecutors said Arnaout commingled donations intended for humanitarian purposes with those to support armed violence, and concealed his ties to al Qaeda from the government, the public and "a considerable number" of donors.
The Benevolence International Foundation was founded in Saudi Arabia in 1987, incorporated in this country in the early 1990s and received status as a tax-exempt organization in March 1993.

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