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Fighting terror

Charity chief's plea deal avoids terror link

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 11, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The leader of one of American's biggest Muslim charities, depicted by federal prosecutors as one of Osama bin Laden's principal financiers, struck an 11th-hour plea agreement on Monday without admitting any ties to al-Qaida or terrorism.

Enaam Arnaout, head of the Chicago-based Benevolence International Foundation, admitted that he illegally funneled humanitarian donations to rebel fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya to pay for boots, tents and other military supplies in the 1990s.

The ambiguous outcome left both sides claiming victory. Prosecutors said that by securing Arnaout's cooperation in the plea agreement, they hoped to learn more about his contacts in Afghanistan in the 1980s, during the early days of al-Qaida.

Arnaout's surprise plea bargain in a federal courtroom in Chicago came on the same day jury selection was to begin for a trial that the Justice Department said was critical to shutting down al-Qaida's money pipeline.

Prosecutors agreed to throw out six of the seven counts that Arnaout was facing, allowing him to plead guilty to a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He faces up to 20 years in prison, although if he cooperates with prosecutors as expected, that sentence may be significantly reduced. Defense lawyers predicted that he could be freed soon.

Officials want Americans to be ready for attack

WASHINGTON -- Top federal officials on Monday issued their most pointed advice since Sept. 11, 2001, on precautions the public should take against terrorist attacks, warning that every home should be stocked with three days worth of water and food in case of a strike with chemical, biological or radiological weapons.

They also recommended that families consider designating a room where they will gather in the event of such an attack and have on hand duct tape and heavy plastic sheeting to seal it, as well as scissors, a manual can opener, blankets, flashlights, radios and spare batteries. The officials said they believe the al-Qaida terrorist network is particularly targeting New York and Washington.

Ranking officials of the Department of Homeland Security told reporters at a briefing that Americans must take some personal responsibility for protecting themselves, but stressed that people should not feel panicked or abandoned by government.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday the latest terrorism alert issued by the Bush administration represented "the most significant" such warning since the Sept. 11 attacks.

U.S. wants to postpone terrorist suspect's trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The Bush administration wants to postpone the trial of terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui until September, while prosecutors try to keep an al-Qaida prisoner out of the case, court papers revealed Monday.

The current starting date is June 30. The defense said it does not object to the delay.

Judge Leonie Brinkema has issued a secret ruling that would allow the defendant access to a suspected al-Qaida mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, a government official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity. Ramzi Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan and is being interrogated in an undisclosed location.

The Bush administration is reluctant to have Binalshibh testify in a public trial, where he could reveal sensitive information.

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