Live

Watch CBSN Live

Charity Or Terror?

Federal prosecutors filed perjury charges against the head of an Illinois Islamic charity Tuesday and accused his organization of supporting terrorists, including a man who allegedly tried to acquire nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports that federal agents arrested Enaam Arnaout of the Benevolence International Foundation, charging him with perjury and alleging he "had a relationship with bin Laden that dated to the late 1980s" and that "donors to the charity had been victimized."

The FBI charged in an affidavit that the charity had links to individuals involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, a plot to bomb U.S. airlines and a plan to assassinate the pope.

The FBI affidavit does not accuse Arnaout or the organization with involvement in those plots. But it alleges that they lied about their ties to terrorists who were involved and says they forwarded $685,560 between January and April 2000 to Islamic guerillas trained by bin Laden's group to fight the Russians in Chechnya.


Follow the Terror Money Trail


Arnaout and the organization were accused of perjury for saying under oath in court papers submitted in a civil lawsuit that the group does not fund terrorism or military activity but helps charitable causes.

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

Fitzgerald said it was important to note that "donors (to the charity) have done nothing wrong. This is a prosecution aimed at fraud and perjury. It is not a prosecution aimed at charities."

Arnaout, a 39-year-old Syrian-born naturalized American, was arrested Tuesday at his suburban Chicago home and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ian Levin to hear the charges against him. Prosecutors said they would seek to have Arnaout held without bail; the judge ordered him held until a detention hearing May 7.

Arnaout's attorney Stephen Levy said his client had sought to leave the country to visit his sick mother in Saudi Arabia and would have returned.

"I am confident that Mr. Arnaout is not engaged in terrorist activities, nor has he supported such activities knowingly or directly," Levy said. He said that if federal officials granted Arnaout immunity from prosecution, "he would be more than helpful."

The government's court filing cited four confidential informants who provided information about links between the charity and terrorism, one of whom said that Arnaout was considering fleeing the United States.

The complaint includes allegations 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 Qaeda terrorist organization.

"When he traveled into Bosnia he traveled on a visa arranged by Benevolence International Foundation and Arnaout," Fitzgerald said. "His hotel was paid for Benevolence International Foundation."

He is awaiting trial in New York on charges of conspiring to kill Americans and has pleaded guilty to trying to kill a corrections officer there. While in Bosnia, he was described in writing signed in Arnaout's name as a Benevolence director, the affidavit said.

It said another man, Mohamed Bayazid, also "made efforts to get uranium for al Qaeda to develop a nuclear weapon." Fitzgerald said evidence presented in a New York court shows that the two men made that effort in the Sudan in 1994 and there is no sign that they succeeded.

Benevolence International is one of two Chicago-area Islamic charities that has had assets frozen by the government.

The government is also detaining the co-founder of Global Relief Foundation, the other organization, on an immigration violation.

Both groups have sued the government, denying that they have anything 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.

While living in Pakistan, Arnaout let one of bin Laden's wives stay at his apartment, which the government says showed bin Laden 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. The government says the group lied in that lawsuit.

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.

View CBS News In