On the night of July 23, 2014 Enaam Arnaout, 51, CEO of the former Islamic charity, Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), learned from the TV news that the US government had filed legal documents to strip him of his citizenship.
Arnaout told TMO that the next day, July 24, a SWAT team driving dark SUVs showed up where he works and behaved in an intimidating manner as US Marshalls served Arnaout his â€œComplaint to Revoke Citizenshipâ€ papers.
Naturally, his employers were not too happy.
One of the Marshalls spoke to Arnaout smiling as if he knew him. â€œWhen did you get out?â€ he asked.
Arnaout answered him, â€œI got out four years ago and finished my probation.â€
â€œOK, this is something new,â€ the US Marshall replied.
This draconian tactic of denaturalization has generally only been applied against accused war criminals, usually World War II era Nazis, although in 2007, Rasmi Khader Almallah was stripped of his US citizenship due to his connection with another persecuted Islamic charity, the Holy Land Foundation. He currently resides in Jordan.
In 2013, a Rwandan was sentenced to ten years in prison for naturalization fraud in addition to losing his citizenship based on war crimes allegations.
Arnaout received US citizenship in 1994 through marriage to his former wife, Nancy Catherine Noyes, a Florida nurse whom he met traveling in Pakistan.
â€œDenaturalization is required when an alien has concealed material facts or made willful misrepresentations which aided in the receipt of naturalization… Accordingly, Defendantâ€™s naturalization must be revoked,â€ the government is now demanding.
Arnaout is accused of naturalization fraud on two issues: First, he claimed not to have worked for any organization other than BIF, designated by the US Department of Treasury as financiers of terrorism in 2002, and a telemarketing company.
â€œDefendant provided mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan with supplies and logistical support. By providing the mujahedeen with support and or money, Defendant knowingly affiliated himself with various organizations and associations that claimed to repel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan,â€ reads the complaint, which makes sweeping claims about connections and links to numerous terrorist organizations including Al-Qaeda, no doubt supplied by the â€œintelligenceâ€ fraud Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project.
Secondly, the complaint states that in his naturalization application, Arnaout claimed not to have committed any crime for which he had not been arrested. In 2003, believing that he would not be able to get a fair trial in post-9/11 America, the charity head accepted a plea bargain. Government prosecutors are saying that he pled guilty, therefore he committed a crime and thus lied in his citizenship application.
Arnaout entered into the plea agreement in 2003, in which he pled guilty to a single count of racketeering. In that agreement, the prosecution acknowledged that neither Arnaout nor BIF had acted contrary to the interests of the United States, or had any ties to Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda. Arnaoutâ€™s statement of guilt acknowledges subverting on the order of $300,000 to $400,000 of charitable funds (out of a total of about $20,000,000) to buy boots, uniforms, tents, and an ambulance for Bosnian fighters, without the knowledge of the charitable donors. Arnaout also acknowledged that he used BIF funds to provide, in the fall of 1995, hunting boots to civilians and fighters in Chechnya who faced a winter of war against the Russian army, which had invaded Chechnya in 1994. Subsequently, Mr. Arnaout provided uniforms to the justice department of the Chechen government which was being formed in 1997.
Judge Conlon sentenced Arnaout to 136 months in prison. Upon appeal in February 2006, Conlon resentenced Arnaout to 120 months (10 years) in prison.
During the sentencing hearing in August 2003, US District Judge Suzanne Conlon told prosecutors they had â€œfailed to connect the dotsâ€ and said there was no evidence that Arnaout â€œidentified with or supportedâ€ terrorism. Arnaout will go in front of a different judge regarding his US citizenship.
How ironic, that this deeply religious man, who dedicated his life to providing emergency relief to war torn areas, who funded refugee camps, orphanages, hospitals, and schools for the poor and oppressed from Bosnia to China, is now being accused by the US government of â€œmoral turpitude!â€
â€œThereâ€™s an administrative, bureaucratic evil that is going on with respect to this War on Terror that is just unconscionable, itâ€™s just stupid. There doesnâ€™t seem to be any way for whoeverâ€™s running this country, primarily the intelligence agencies, to distinguish between people who are real threats and people who arenâ€™t,â€ Arnaoutâ€™s attorney, Thomas A. Durkin told WGNtv.com.
â€œI am very disappointed that my government would be taking such a draconian position under all the circumstances of this case – particularly after all the tremendous hardships this criminal conviction has already visited upon Mr. Arnaout and his entire family,â€ wrote Durkin to US attorney Christopher Dempsey.
â€œMr. Arnaout did not unlawfully engage in a RICO conspiracy during the naturalization period; nor did he provide false testimony or willfully misrepresent or conceal a material fact during his naturalization proceedings… Any attempt to strip Mr. Arnaout of his citizenship based upon the plea agreement he entered before Judge Conlon in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on February 10, 2003, would violate that agreement which was directly and personally negotiated by US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Proceeding in such a fashion as you describe at this late date would, I submit, also violate a number of other constitutional rights of Mr. Arnaout and two of his children who have obtained naturalization through his citizenship status.â€
The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) has taken on the task of fundraising for Arnaoutâ€™s legal expenses.