Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Press Conference
Chicago, Illinois
October 9, 2002

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

     Good afternoon.

     This afternoon, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, a grand jury indicted the director of the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation. Enaam Arnaout is charged with conspiracy to obtain fraudulently charitable donations in order to provide financial assistance to al Qaeda and other organizations engaged in violence and terrorism.

     The grand jury charges Arnaout with operating Benevolence International Foundation as a racketeering enterprise. Benevolence International Foundation, or BIF, is a tax-exempt, purportedly charitable organization with offices in Illinois, Pakistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and elsewhere. The indictment charges that Arnaout operated BIF for more than a decade in order to use fraudulently the charitable contributions of Muslim-Americans, U.S. Corporations, and other donors to support terrorism and other violence overseas.

     The grand jury charges Arnaout with seven counts:

     If convicted of these crimes, Arnaout will face a maximum punishment of 90 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

     Arnaout is accused of defrauding charitable contributors by falsely claiming that the Benevolence International Foundation used donated funds solely for humanitarian relief. In fact, funds were being used to support al Qaeda and other groups engaged in armed violence overseas. In addition, in an effort to conceal donors who knowingly supported terrorism, Arnaout is charged with commingling charitable contributions intended for humanitarian purposes with contributions intended to support armed violence.

     In order to deceive donors, and to guarantee the success of his operation, Arnaout is charged with concealing at all times from the government, the general public and a considerable number of donors his relationships with al Qaeda, its leader, Usama Bin Laden, and other terrorist organizations. In fact, the indictment describes an archive of incriminating documents recovered in the Bosnian offices of BIF in March 2002 – documents that link Arnaout directly to Usama Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

     Discovered in the possession of the Benevolence International Foundation were:

     The documents recovered in the Benevolence International Foundation's Bosnia offices provide for the first time documentary proof of the founding of al Qaeda and the oath sworn by al Qaeda members. The documents uncovered from the Benevolence International Foundation, headed by the man charged in the indictment today, show the American people and the world for the first time tangible proof of the founding of the world's most dangerous terrorist network and the oath of allegiance its members pledge. It is chilling that the origins of al Qaeda were discovered in a charity claiming to do good.

     From the first hours following the September 11 attacks, the Department of Justice has pledged to use all of our means within the law to identify, disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks. A central element of our strategy is to identify, disrupt and destroy those organizations that supply the financing that makes terrorism possible.

     There is no moral distinction between those who carry out terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance terrorist attacks. And what is perhaps most disturbing about this case is that Enaam Arnaout is charged with using a purportedly charitable organization to deceive Muslim-American charitable givers, who are obliged by the principles of their religion to donate to legitimate charity.

     Please note a charge from the indictment – In November 2001 Arnaout spoke via telephone to a BIF employee in Bosnia and agreed with that employee that financial support for an injured fighter could not be reflected on BIF's financial records and that the employee should create a new list of orphans as a means of justifying the expenditures -- It is sinister to prey on good hearts to fund the works of evil.

     The Department of Justice, under the leadership of the President, will use every means, and leave no stone unturned in finding those who will knowingly fund violence and terrorist groups. We will sort through the evidence and separate legitimate donors from those who break the law. So to those who give to legitimate charities, my message today is this: know that the United States government supports charitable giving and will, as we are doing in this case, protect legitimate donors from fraud.

     But to those who would exploit the generosity of others, break the law, and provide financing to terrorists and other groups engaged in violence, my message is this: we will find the sources of terrorist blood money, we will shut down these sources, and we will ensure that both terrorists and their financiers meet the same, swift, certain justice of the United States of America.

     Many individuals are responsible for today's indictment, but none more so than the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald. In this case and many others, Pat has been a leader in the Department of Justice in our core mission to prevent terrorist attacks. I thank Pat for his leadership and his service.

     I recognize and thank FBI Special Agent in Charge Tom Kneir and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the IRS Criminal Investigative Division Charlotte Bonner. Both these individuals have distinguished themselves in this case, and we thank them for their effort.

     Now I will turn to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to comment and then we will be happy to take your questions.