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Suburban man says he’s stuck in Egypt thanks to terrorist watch list mistake

Enaam Arnaout former head Chicago-based Islamic charity Benevolence International Foundation. (AP Photos/Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office)

Enaam Arnaout, former head of the Chicago-based Islamic charity Benevolence International Foundation. (AP Photos/Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office)

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Updated: October 9, 2012 3:37PM



A southwest suburban man — a convicted felon required to return to Chicago under the conditions of his federal probation — says he’s stranded in legal limbo outside the United States because he’s apparently on a U.S. terrorist watch list.

Enaam Arnaout pleaded guilty in 2003 to funneling money to Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya.

The former director of the Benevolence International Foundation in Palos Hills was sentenced to 10 years in prison for defrauding contributors to the charity.

He admitted he siphoned a portion of the charity’s $20 million in donations to buy equipment for soldiers, even though the money was intended for widows and orphans.

Arnaout, 50, a Bridgeview resident, denied he was ever associated with al-Qaida, and prosecutors dropped terrorism charges against him in exchange for his guilty plea.

Arnaout, who was placed on supervised release last year, received permission this summer from U.S. District Judge Suzanne Conlon to travel to Saudi Arabia and Jordan to visit family members. He was allowed to stay for 41 days before returning to the Chicago area.

In a letter to the judge, Arnaout’s brother in Saudi Arabia had begged for her to approve the trip so Arnaout could see his ailing mother.

In court papers filed Monday in Chicago, Arnaout said he’s been stuck in Egypt because he is apparently on a U.S. no-fly list maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center and administered by the FBI.

On July 23, he had traveled from O’Hare Airport to Saudi Arabia with a planned layover in Jordan.

But in Jordan, he was told he wasn’t welcome to enter that country and that he could only receive a transit visa allowing him to board a connecting flight to Saudi Arabia, Arnaout said.

In Saudi Arabia, he contacted his probation officer here, who said he could meet his family in Egypt rather than Jordan, according to court papers.

On Aug. 23, he left Saudi Arabia and arrived in Cairo. But when his trip was over, and he tried to leave for the United States on Sept. 2, he was told he couldn’t board the flight and was instructed to contact the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Arnaout said.

He said an embassy official told him to fill out a U.S. Homeland Security “traveler redress inquiry program” application.

Meanwhile, he received permission from his probation officer and a federal prosecutor here to fly to Mexico and then drive to the United States, according to court papers filed by his attorney, Thomas Durkin.

But Arnaout said he was barred from flying to Mexico, apparently because flights to Mexico travel over U.S. air space.

On Sept. 15, he completed the Homeland Security application and also filed a “one-time repatriation waiver” with the U.S. embassy in Cairo, but he didn’t receive a response, Arnaout said.

Arnaout is now asking the judge to grant his repatriation request or terminate his supervised release.

His preference is to return to the United States “where he is a citizen and now has his roots,” he said in his filing.

“However, due to the health problems he is experiencing in Egypt and his lack of any lawful ability to work in Egypt, he must be permitted some way to lawfully return to Saudi Arabia where his family remains if he is not to be permitted a return to the United States,” his filing said.



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