|Page (1) of 1 - 10/17/11||email article||print page|
Trial of 2 Minnesota women accused of funneling money to Somali terror group heads to jury
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) ' A federal prosecutor told jurors Monday that two Minnesota women conspired to funnel money to a terror group in Somalia even though they knew it was illegal, while defense attorneys painted their clients as humanitarians who wanted to help the poor in their war-torn homeland.
Jurors began deliberating later Monday in the case of Amina Farah Ali, 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, two U.S. citizens of Somali descent who prosecutors accuse of being part of a "deadly pipeline" that routed money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia.
Hundreds of hours of secretly recorded phone calls were the government's key evidence against Ali and Hassan, who were among 20 people charged in Minnesota's long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab. Investigators believe at least 21 men left Minnesota ' home to the country's largest Somali community ' to join the group.
Ali and Hassan say they were collecting money and clothing for refugees.
Ali's attorney, Dan Scott, told jurors during closing arguments Monday that the evidence showed his client was giving money to fighters in Somalia and their families before the U.S. deemed al-Shabab a terror group with ties to al-Qaida in February 2008.
"They haven't proven that she knew they were engaged in acts of terrorism," Scott said of the government's case. "They haven't proven she knew al-Shabab was a foreign terrorist organization. Because of that, they haven't proven their case."
Scott said Ali's motives were based on faith, and she gave money to those supporting Islam.
"Just because Amina Ali wraps up what she's doing in the name of Islam, that doesn't make it right, and that's not a defense," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen said. He added that the women were giving money to a group trying to take over Somalia, and they were so "plugged in" that they gave advice to some of the al-Shabab leaders.
Hassan's attorney, Tom Kelly, said his client was a humanitarian, who thought of al-Shabab as a group defending Somalia from the Ethiopian army, whom many saw as invaders. He called al-Shabab "freedom fighters."
"Hawo Hassan was concerned about the orphans, the wounded. She wanted to expel the invaders," Kelly said. "She was looking for unity. ... Why would she be thinking of terrorism? This was a popular movement. This was an insurgency of the Somali people."
Kelly said his client was not part of any conspiracy, and had limited knowledge about what Ali was doing.
Both women, of Rochester, 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 two counts of lying to the FBI.
Each terrorism count carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence, while lying to the FBI carries an eight year maximum.
Prosecutors played recordings in which the women talked of going 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.