Islamic charity, director charged with lying about terror links

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Associated Press WriterCHICAGO (AP) -- An Islamic charity and its executive director were accused in a perjury indictment Tuesday of supporting terrorists, including a man who allegedly tried to acquire nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden.

An affidavit filed with the complaint said that Benevolence International Foundation's executive director, Enaam M. Arnaout, has had a relationship with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden "and many of his key associates dating back more than a decade."

Among the allegations in the government's affidavit is that the foundation sponsored Mamdouh Salim, a bin Laden associate, for a trip to Bosnia. Salim, the affidavit says, had at one time attempted to get nuclear and chemical weapons for the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

"The complaint alleges Benevolence International Foundation was supporting violence secretly," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said.

The foundation, one of two Chicago-area Islamic charities that has had assets frozen by the government, has insisted that it has nothing to do with terrorism.

But the government says Arnaout had known bin Laden since the mid-1980s, according to documents and informers. A March 19 raid on a Benevolence International office in Bosnia turned up photos of bin Laden in Afghanistan as well photos of Arnaout holding several weapons. Those photos probably dated to the 1980s, the affidavit said.

Informants also said that Arnaout at one time handled money for bin Laden, the government said. A cooperating witness said that the organization was used in the early 1990s by bin Laden to transfer money to bank accounts of relief organizations that also supplied funds to terrorists.

He once also, while living in Pakistan, let one of bin Laden's wives stay at his apartment, which the government says would not have happened had bin Laden not known and trusted him.

The group's headquarters in suburban Palos Hills was raided by federal agents on Dec. 14 and its assets were frozen. Federal officials said the charity was suspected of involvement with terrorist groups.

The organization then sued the government, saying it has nothing to do with terrorism and demanding the release of its assets.

Arnaout, 39, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in south suburban Justice on charges that he and Benevolence made false statements over the last month in their lawsuit against the government.

The affidavit signed by FBI Agent Robert Walker said that the organization was founded by a wealthy Saudi sheik, Adil Abdul Galil Betargy, who is an associate of bin Laden, according to documents seized in Bosnia.

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