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Muslim charity head enters fraud plea • Tuesday February 11, 2003

The Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2003

CHICAGO – The head of a Muslim charity accused of funneling money to Osama bin Laden’s terror network pleaded guilty Monday to illegally buying boots and uniforms for fighting forces in Bosnia and Chechnya.

As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors dropped charges that Enaam Arnaout aided bin Laden. But they insisted he committed the offense, and said they agreed to the plea bargain to secure a conviction and Arnaout’s cooperation while sparing the government the expense of a trial.

“We are prepared to prove that he did support al-Qaida when that issue is addressed at sentencing,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington.

Arnaout faces a maximum of 20 years; no sentencing date has been set.

The case has been considered a major part of government efforts to choke off the flow of U.S. dollars to terrorists around the world.

Arnaout, 41, admitted defrauding donors to his 10-year-old Benevolence International Foundation, based in suburban Palos Hills, by telling them the group helped only widows, orphans and the poor in Muslim lands.

The Syrian-born U.S. citizen admitted that some money was “used to support fighters overseas.” Specifically, he said donations were used to buy boots and uniforms for Chechen rebels fighting the Russian army and boots, tents, uniforms and an ambulance for use by soldiers in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Arnaout was silent on what prosecutors described as his long-standing ties to bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Arnaout promised to cooperate in future investigations, and if he does not tell the government about his alleged ties to al-Qaida, prosecutors will not recommend a break at sentencing. Prosecutors have said that Arnaout provided a “substantial” amount of money to al-Qaida but have not been more specific.

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