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Former Inmate Of Secretive Prison May Visit Saudi Arabia, Judge Says

A federal judge in Chicago will allow a former inmate in a restrictive prison unit designed for terrorists and other prisoners who authorities say require constant supervision to travel to Saudi Arabia for up to a month to visit his "ailing and infirm mother," according to a court order released Friday.

Enaam Arnaout pleaded guilty to racketeering for allegedly failing to tell donors to Benevolence International, his Chicago-area charity, that their contributions were funding operations in Bosnia and Chechnya that the U.S. government says were tied to terrorism. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft traveled to Illinois for a news conference announcing the indictment more than eight years ago.

Arnaout spent time in a special communications management unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana, described by NPR in a two-part investigative series last week. The series included a graphic that showed the names and locations of the prisoners.


After his release, Arnaout got a job selling used cars in Illinois. He had sought permission to take a 90-day vacation to Turkey, Bosnia and Saudi Arabia to deal with family business.

The U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago didn't object to the travel plan. After holding a hearing this week, Judge Suzanne B. Conlon decided to limit Arnaout's travel to Saudi Arabia. The judge said Arnaout must live with his brother and allowed him to visit with other family members, but insisted that he check in regularly with his probation officer by telephone.

Thomas A. Durkin, an attorney for Arnaout, said in an interview Friday that "we're very grateful."

"His mother is frail and in very ill health," Durkin continued. "She's awaiting surgery and she was fearful she might die before seeing her son. So we are tremendously grateful to the court."


Earlier Friday, in Northern Virginia, a federal judge re-sentenced another inmate in the CMU in Terre Haute to 15 years in prison for his alleged involvement with a paintball terrorist ring with ties to Pakistan's Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The inmate, former schoolteacher Ali Asad Chandia, argues that he is not a terrorist and shouldn't be subjected to a longer prison sentence as a result. U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton disagreed; Chandia's defense lawyer said they will appeal the prison term.

NPR database editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.

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