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US-based Islamic Charity Pleads Guilty for Funding Fighters in Chechnya, Bosnia - 2003-02-10

The head of an Islamic charity in the mid-west state of Illinois pleaded guilty Monday to illegally helping Muslim fighters in Chechnya and Bosnia.

Enaam Arnaout pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy in Chicago. He is the head of a Muslim charity called Benevolence International Foundation.

Arnaout, a Syrian-born U.S. citizen, admitted that his organization had collected money that was donated to help the poor and used those funds instead to buy boots and uniforms for Muslim forces fighting in Chechnya and Bosnia.

As part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors dropped several other charges against Arnaout, including an allegation that some of the money he raised was intended for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a statement saying the government stands by the allegations concerning Arnaout's links to al-Qaida even though they are not part of the plea bargain deal.

Arnaout will be sentenced in March and faces up to 20 years in prison. But he could get a lesser sentence if he cooperates with U.S. authorities looking to close off sources of terrorist funding.

In Washington, Attorney General Ashcroft said the government is determined to prosecute and imprison those who would dupe charitable donors to finance violence overseas.

He also told a Washington audience that the coalition of 90 countries committed to the war on terrorism remains strong. "As freedom-loving nations, we now find ourselves in the midst of an historic struggle for the values protected by the rule of law, the values of freedom, of democracy, of equality. We cannot escape the challenge history has placed before us. It is more than a duty, more than a privilege; it is the calling of our time," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Attorney General Ashcroft said many nations have pledged help to shut down sources of terrorist funding, adding that those who fund terrorists will meet what he called "swift, certain justice."