Thursday, January 2, 2003

CHICAGO, Jan. 2 (UPI) — The jailed head of an Islamic charity accused of using donations to support terror groups Thursday pleaded innocent to expanded federal charges.

Enaam Arnaout, was arrested in April and charged with funneling charitable donations to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network and mujahedin fighters in Sudan.

He appeared in court at the Dirksen Federal Building wearing an orange prison jumpsuit with a short, neatly trimmed beard, and remained silent as his lawyer entered an innocent plea to charges of wire fraud, racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy.

“There was a superceding indictment and I think they added one paragraph to the indictment, and so it’s really kind of a formality,” said attorney Joseph Duffy. “The judge has to arraign him on the new charges, he’s going to enter a plea of ‘not guilty’ and the trial date will stand.”

Arnaout, 40, is executive director of the Palos Hills-based Benevolence International Foundation, an Islamic charity federal prosecutors claim operated as a “criminal enterprise” to solicit money from donors allegedly for humanitarian purposes.

The superceding indictment filed by the government includes allegations of links to terrorists in the Sudan to provide military, logistical and medical support. BIF has operated an office in Sudan since 1991 allegedly to support Mujahedin ‘holy war’ activities,” the indictment said.

Arnaout and the Benevolence International Foundation also are accused of laundering money through the charity using various banks.

Arnaout has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center for nine months and could face a maximum 90 years in prison if he is convicted on all charges. Trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 10.

In September, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall threw out a perjury charge against Arnaout, ruling prosecutors had failed to charge him under the proper statute. Prosecutors filed new charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements against him a few hours later.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a July ruling by a federal judge who found the government acted constitutionally when it froze bank accounts of the Global Relief Foundation, another U.S.-based Islamic charity under investigation for links to terrorism.

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