UPDATED: Lengthy Sentences Handed Out in Somali Aid Trial

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November 1, 2011

On May 16, 2013, two Minnesota women received sentences for sending money to al-Shabaab in Somalia. Amina Farah Ali was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 13 terrorism-related counts, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan received a 10-year term on one terror-related count and two counts of lying to the FBI.  An attorney for one of the woman said they planned on filing an appeal.

In October 2011, a jury found the two women guilty of raising funds for al Shabaab, Somali militants that are on the U.S. terrorist list. The women were convicted on charges including conspiracy to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization and lying to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents. Each count of providing material support carries a 15-year sentence; lying to the FBI carries a maximum of eight years. The women insisted the money was not going to fund terrorism and were instead raising money to help the people affected by the famine and civil war in Somalia. They also said at the time they were unaware al Shabaab was on the U.S. list.

According to their attorneys, Ali and Hassan had fundraised for their homeland for years in Minnesota and contended anyone wanting to send humanitarian aid to Somalia had to deal with al-Shabaab because it controls the southern part of the country and had held the capital, Mogadishu, until mid 2011. Al-Shabaab has been engaged in a protracted conflict with the country’s internationally recognized government for years, effectively dividing the country.  During the trial the government acknowledged some of the money raised by Ali and Hassan went to the needy and orphans in Somalia, but any money sent in support of a designated terrorist group was prohibited. Defense attorneys for the two women, both U.S. citizens of Somali descent, said they were unaware of al-Shabaab’s designation by the U.S. government. The militant group had been designated by the State Department in February 2008

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen, said, “People subject to U.S. laws cannot send money to al-Shabaab. It's as simple as that.”
Mick Kelly, from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression said these women “care about the people of Somalia and worked to make the country a better place. The U.S. government has no business dictating what political party, religion or social movements that the Somali people chose to support. The laws on ‘material support for terrorism’ should be scrapped.” 
Even before famine was declared in July 2011, nearly three million Somalis were at risk of starvation inside the war-torn country. This includes almost 2.2 million people trapped in places controlled by al Shabaab. Despite the State Department’s easing of restrictions on aid groups that receive funds from the U.S. government, U.S. anti-terror laws make it nearly impossible for most humanitarian groups from delivering aid to civilians in places such designated terrorist groups operate.