US women accused of terror financing face trial

Published: October 3, 2011

One of two Minnesota women accused of funneling money to a terrorist group in Somalia allegedly told potential donors to ignore charities and focus on “the jihad” and helped finance local Somali men’s travel to their war-torn homeland to fight, prosecutors alleged in court filings.
The details hint at evidence the government claims it has against Amina Farah Ali, who is scheduled to stand trial Monday on multiple terror charges. Prosecutors said Ali, 35, and her co-defendant, 64-year-old Hawo Mohamed Hassan, were part of a “deadly pipeline” that routed money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia.
The women, both U.S. citizens of Somali descent, were among 20 people charged in Minnesota’s long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida. Investigators believe at least 21 men left Minnesota — home to the country’s largest Somali community — to join al-Shabab.
Though others have pleaded guilty to related charges, the women are the first to go on trial.
Ali and Hassan maintain their innocence and claim they were collecting money and clothing for refugees. But prosecutors allege the women went door-to-door and held teleconferences to solicit donations for the fighters. In one of those recorded calls, investigators allege, Ali said to “forget about the other charities” and focus on “the jihad.” In others, both women speak with the leader of a militia allied with al-Shabab, and Ali gets updates on the fighting.
Both women, of Rochester, Minnesota, are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali also faces 12 counts of providing such support for allegedly sending more than $8,600 to the group from September 2008 through July 2009. Hassan faces three counts of lying to the FBI.
Each terrorism count carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
Investigators said they ran a wiretap on Ali’s home and cellular phones for 10 months, intercepting roughly 30,000 calls, some of which were between the two women and others, and searched the trash outside Ali’s apartment about 90 times, according to court documents and hearings in recent months.
Defense attorneys have tried to keep some of that evidence out of trial. Dan Scott, Ali’s lawyer, argued that some evidence would simply confuse the jury and pointed to prosecutors’ allegations that Ali communicated with terrorists who weren’t members of al-Shabab. The Islamist al-Shabab militia is fighting to overthrow the U.N.-backed Somali government.
“In essence, the government wants to offer evidence that the defendants legally had contact with bad men to show that the defendants had illegal contact with other bad men,” he wrote in a recent court filing.
Scott also sought to limit evidence alleging Ali gave money and clothes to al-Shabab before it was designated a foreign terrorist organization in early 2008, saying such activity wouldn’t have been illegal at the time under the charges his client faces.
Hassan’s attorney, Tom Kelly, has repeatedly asked that his client be tried separately, saying most of the government’s evidence is against Ali and would affect how jurors view Hassan. That request was denied Friday.
During a hearing a day earlier, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen said prosecutors would show that Ali raised $11,000 for al-Shabab in 2007 and initially intended to send it to the group through clerics in Minneapolis. But she didn’t like how they were handling the money, so she “took the bull by the horns” and set up her own contacts in Somalia, Paulsen said.
Prosecutors also allege that Ali’s computer contained images of prominent al-Shabab members, the beheading of a Christian Somali and of Jamal Bana — a young Somali who left Minnesota in 2008 and later died in Somalia. Investigators also said they have evidence that Ali sent money to a man in Kenya for the medical treatment of wounded al-Shabab fighters.
“Her intent, her goal, is to further the cause, the fighting,” Paulsen said of Ali.

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