A southwest suburban used car salesman and former Muslim charity leader who was an alleged associate of Osama bin Laden should be stripped of his U.S. citizenship, the feds say.
But a lawyer for Syrian immigrant Enaam Arnaout says the government’s move to have Arnaout booted out of the U.S. is “wrongheaded, vindictive, and symptomatic of the . . . unending War on Terror.”
Department of Justice attorneys based in Washington, D.C., filed the civil complaint Wednesday in Chicago’s federal court, alleging Arnaout, 51, of Palos Hills, lied about his past as a fundraiser for bin Laden and other mujahadeen fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan when he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1993.
He also didn’t disclose his involvement in racketeering scheme to misuse charity money for boots, uniforms and other equipment for Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya, according to a civil complaint filed Wednesday by Department of Justice lawyers in Chicago’s federal court.
Now that he’s served a 10-year sentence for a conviction in that racketeering case and completed his parole, he should be stripped of his citizenship and sent packing, the feds say.
Arnaout — who also goes by “Abu Mahmoud” — allegedly fought alongside bin Laden against the Soviets in 1988, when the feds say he was photographed with the al-Qaida leader. The U.S. also backed some mujahadeen in the Cold War fight with the Soviet Union.
But speaking Wednesday, Arnaout’s attorney, Thomas Durkin, said that Arnaout has done his time and has already suffered enough.
The Justice Department threatened to strip Arnaout of his citizenship soon after his release from prison in 2011, but had not raised the matter again until Wednesday, Durkin said, adding “we presumed that anyone truly concerned with justice had the good sense not to proceed.”
High profile charges in 2002 that Arnaout supported terrorism through his Palos Hill charity Benevolence International Foundation were considered important enough at the time to bring then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to Chicago.
But those charges were eventually dropped in return for Arnaout’s guilty plea to a far lesser charge of racketeering. And U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon said at a sentencing hearing in 2003 that prosecutors had failed to prove Arnaout backed terror groups.
He has been working as a used car salesman since 2011 and has completed his three years of supervised release, Durkin said.
It’s not clear why the government has now moved to strip him of his citizenship, though the case bears similarities to a controversial case filed last year against another southwest suburban resident, Palestinian immigrant Rasmieh Odeh, who also allegedly hid a terrorist past from U.S. authorities when she emigrated in the 1990s.
A Department of Justice spokesman declined to answer questions about Arnaout’s case Wednesday.
But the complaint alleges that when Arnaout came to the U.S. in 1989, he lied under oath when he failed to disclose to immigration officials that he had worked for Lajnat Al-Birr Al-Islamiah, a fundraising organization set-up by al-Qaida backer Adel Batterjee.
Crucially, his guilty plea in 2002 contained an admission that his racketeering scheme began in 1992 — a year before he applied for citizenship, according to the complaint.
That means he lacked the “good moral character” necessary to become a naturalized U.S. citizen, the complaint alleges.