Islamic Charity Head Charged With Funneling Funds to Bin Laden

The leader of an Islamic charity was indicted Wednesday on charges of funneling donations to Usama bin Laden's terrorist network, with Attorney General John Ashcroft vowing, "We will find the sources of terrorist blood money."

Enaam M. Arnaout, 40, head of the Benevolence International Foundation, has been in federal custody since April.

The indictment said a criminal enterprise that existed for at least a decade used charitable contributions from innocent Muslims, non-Muslims and corporations to support bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, Chechen rebels fighting the Russian army and armed violence in Bosnia.

"It is sinister to prey on good hearts to fund the works of evil," Ashcroft said in announcing the charges in Chicago.

Neither Ashcroft nor U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald would specify how much money went to terrorists.

Ashcroft said documents found in the organization's office in Bosnia have provided "chilling" evidence tying Arnaout directly to bin Laden and Al Qaeda. He said the papers summarize the 1988 meeting at which the terror network was founded, and include a text of the network's oath of allegiance.

Arnaout, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Justice, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to launder money, money laundering and wire and mail fraud.

If convicted, Arnaout could be sentenced to 90 years in prison without parole, Ashcroft said.

According to the indictment, Benevolence International and Arnaout engaged in a pattern of racketeering to support Islamic warriors around the world by raising funds. The organizations involved were Al Qaeda and Hezb e Islami, a militant group run by an Afghan warlord, prosecutors said.

An FBI affidavit filed the day Arnaout was arrested said his organization sent $685,000 to Chechen rebels and financed a trip to Bosnia for Mamdouh Salim. Salim is awaiting trial in New York on charges of conspiracy to kill Americans in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The foundation, founded 10 years ago, was not named as a defendant in the racketeering indictment.

The group's offices in Palos Hills were raided Dec. 14 by FBI and Treasury agents, and its records were confiscated. That same day, the Treasury Department froze the group's U.S. bank accounts on grounds that the organization was suspected of supporting terrorism. The accounts remain frozen.

The FBI said one of the documents seized in the raid was a letter from bin Laden to Arnauot.

The new indictment offers more details from other documents seized in the raid.

One of the documents gave a list of wealthy Saudi sponsors of Al Qaeda, according to the indictment. It said that Benevolence had a Swiss bank account and understated transfers from the account.

The indictment said that in October 2001, Arnaout spoke by phone with Benevolence founder Adel Batterjee in Saudi Arabia and said he was concerned because he was being watched by the government and had been searched at an airport.

In January, Batterjee asked Arnaout to move to Saudi Arabia with his family, the indictment said.

Arnaout was arrested while attempting to get court permission to leave the country. His attorneys have said he wanted to visit his sick mother in Saudi Arabia. Federal prosecutors maintained he never intended to return to the United States.

Arnaout was charged in April with perjury after denying he had provided support to terrorist organizations. A federal judge recently dismissed those charges, saying Arnaout had committed no crime. Federal prosecutors immediately filed new perjury charges against Arnaout and they are still pending.

Arnaout is being held in the government's Metropolitan Correctional Center. He is not allowed to move around the jail without a three-guard escort.