FBI links head of charity to bin Laden
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal agents arrested the director of an Illinois-based charity Tuesday and charged him with lying about links to Osama bin Laden and international terrorism.
Federal authorities said Enaam Arnaout, 39, a Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who is executive director of the Benevolence International Foundation, was charged with perjury for lying during the government's investigation of the BIF. The organization itself was also charged with perjury.
The Treasury Department froze the BIF's assets in last December because the government claimed the group had ties to al Qaeda, bin Laden's international terrorist organization.
The BIF went to court to fight the action, and the government's criminal complaint says that in a sworn affidavit Arnaout said the group "never provided aid or support to organizations involved in violence, terrorist activities or military operations of any nature."
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said the statement was false and that Arnaout had a relationship with bin Laden and al Qaeda dating to the 1980s.
In a 35-page criminal complaint, the government says the BIF supported terrorist groups and individuals and had "direct dealings" with Chechen guerrillas and Hezb e Islami -- identified by the government as a military group operating in Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.
The support, according to the government, included hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The complaint says the BIF supported the groups with donations intended to help Muslim causes.
"Donors have done nothing wrong," Fitzgerald said. "This is a prosecution that alleges, in effect, that donors were the victims."
Matthew Piers, a lawyer for Arnaout and the charity, said his client had offered to cooperate with authorities before federal agents raided the foundation last year. He said the government's searches and seizures of the foundation's assets were unconstitutional, and promised to fight the charges.
"The charge that is being made against Mr. Arnaout is the charge of making false statements," Piers said. "We strongly believe that now that we finally have the chance to see some evidence and meet some evidence, that both the Benevolence Foundation and Mr. Arnaout will be found not guilty."
Attorney General John Ashcroft said Arnaout was close enough to bin Laden that he was trusted to care for one of his wives in Pakistan in 1989.
"Arnaout was, has a relationship with Osama bin Laden and many of his key associates, and that the foundation is an organization that al Qaeda has used for logistical support," Ashcroft said.
The complaint says Arnaout and BIF officials had contact with people involved in terrorist activity -- particularly with the al Qaeda network.
One of those individuals -- Mamdouh Salim -- is a key bin Laden associate who wrote fatwas and participated in efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and chemical weapons for al Qaeda, the complaint says.
Salim is awaiting trial in New York on federal charges related to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people and wounded more than 4,000.
Four men were convicted of the bombings last May and sentenced to life and prison.
Salim pleaded guilty April 4 to attempted murder for stabbing a corrections officer in the eye with a sharpened comb in late 2000.
Fitzgerald said the BIF helped Salim obtain a travel documents for a 1998 trip to Bosnia and paid for his hotel room while he was there. He said that at one point, Salim had an Illinois driver's license that used the BIF's address.
The BIF is not accused of helping al Qaeda try to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Alleged al Qaeda figure pleads guilty to assaulting guard
April 4, 2002
Trial date set for alleged bin Laden aide
January 29, 2002
Jury hears that bomber facing execution regrets attack
June 28, 2001
Al-'Owhali spared death in embassy bombings trial
June 6, 2001
U.S. tries to link bomber to jailhouse stabbing
June 20, 2001
LAW TOP STORIES:
Robert Blake goes to court
High court allows anti-abortion protests outside clinics
Father of terror victim seeks court ruling to help his lawsuit
Title IX minority pushes enforcement, not change
Owners of Olympic winner's training rink guilty of fraud
|Back to the top|