Oct 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two Minnesota women were convicted Thursday of conspiring to funnel money to a terrorist group in Somalia as part of what prosecutors called a "deadly pipeline" sending money and fighters from the U.S. to al-Shabab.
The jury returned its verdicts in federal court in Minneapolis. They deliberated about 20 hours since getting the case at the end of the day Monday.
Amina Farah Ali, 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, were each charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali also faced 12 counts of providing such support, for allegedly sending more than $8,600 to the group from September 2008 through July 2009, while Hassan faced two counts of lying to the FBI.
Both were found guilty on all counts. The terrorism-related counts each carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, while each count of lying to the FBI carries up to 8 years. No sentencing date was set.
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 were the first to go on trial.
Prosecutors say the two women went door-to-door in the name of charity and held religious teleconferences to solicit donations, which they then routed to the fighters, who many Somalis believed were protecting their war-torn homeland from the Ethiopian army, which many saw as invaders.
The government's key evidence included hundreds of hours of secretly recorded phone calls, obtained during a 10-month wiretap on Ali's home and cell phone. Prosecutors say those calls, which included talk of fighting in Somalia and sending money to fighters under false pretenses, show the women knew they were doing something illegal.
Defense attorneys say the women are humanitarians, who were giving money to orphans and poor people, as well as a group they felt was working to push foreign troops out of Somalia.
As part of its case, the government had to prove the women knew al-Shabab had been declared a foreign terrorist organization, or that they knew it was engaged in terrorist activity or terrorism.
Ali's lawyer, Dan Scott, said she began supporting al-Shabab before the U.S. government declared it a terrorist group in February 2008 because she supported those true to her Islamic beliefs. He said the government offered no evidence that showed Ali knew al-Shabab had received the designation, and she didn't hide her activities.
Prosecutor Steven Ward contended that Ali and Hassan were in contact with key al-Shabab leaders and getting frequent updates on the fighting. He said their conversations showed the women knew al-Shabab was a terror group.
Hassan's attorney, Tom Kelly, said in his closing argument that Hassan was a humanitarian who considered al-Shabab a group of "freedom fighters" defending her homeland.
"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."
The case was closely watched by the state's large Somali community, with many saying the wiretaps bred mistrust among immigrants already fearful of government. Dozens of Somalis - mostly women - flocked to court each day to watch.
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