Somalia Aid Trial in Minnesota Hears Closing Arguments

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October 17, 2011

The trial of two Minnesotans accused of funneling money to a designated terrorist group in Somalia held closing arguments on Oct. 17, 2011. The two women each face one charge of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Shabaab, a U.S. designated terrorist organization that operates in Somalia, and other charges. Attorneys for the defendants claim they were helping their fellow Somalis and unaware of the U.S. designation of al-Shabaab as a terrorist group. Al-Shabaab was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government in February 2008.

The prosecution accuses Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan of soliciting money in the U.S. to support al-Shabaab’s efforts in Somalia. During the trial, prosecutors presented recorded telephone calls in which they claim the defendants, U.S. citizens of Somali descent, had discussed sending money to al-Shabaab. The women were among 20 people from Minnesota who have been named in federal charges for allegedly aiding al-Shabaab.  Along with the charge of conspiracy to provide material support, Ali faces 12 additional counts of providing material aid for allegedly sending nearly $8,600 to people in Somalia between September 2008 and July 2009. Hassan also faces two counts of making false statements to the FBI.

During the trial defense attorneys for Ali and Hassan argued that they were raising money for the poor in Somalia and the money was not intended to fund terrorism. They said the two women raised the money openly through door-to-door solicitations and over the phone, but did not know the activities were illegal. The material support statute, at 18 USC 2339B states that "a person must have knowledge that the organization is a designated terrorist organization,"  
Thomas Kelly, an attorney for Hassan, said some of the money she had raised included $4,000 for 500 orphans whose parents were killed by Ethiopian troops. Attorneys for Ali said she did not know about the U.S. designation of al-Shabaab until the government told her in July 2009.
“To me she is a victim of the confusing Somali post civil war system, where you have a country that is so messed up,” explained Omar Jamal, one of the defendant’s courtroom interpreters.