Refusing to stand in court lands terror suspect in jail

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2011 - 10:01 PM

Amina Farah Ali says she is following religious beliefs.

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Amina Farah Ali, seen here in August, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan are accused of funneling money to a terrorist group.

Photo: Craig Lassig, Associated Press

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A Somali woman charged with supporting terrorists refused to stand when the judge and jury entered a federal courtroom in Minneapolis on Monday, igniting a battle of wills with the chief federal judge presiding over her trial.

Amina Farah Ali, 35, cited her religious beliefs in declining to stand, but U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis wasn't having it. He ruled that she was in contempt of court, giving her five days in jail for each of the five times she refused to rise Monday -- a total of 25 days to be served after her trial ends.

Earlier Monday, Davis had ordered her arrested and held in jail for the duration of her trial. She had been free before his order.

"This is something that is blatantly disruptive," he said. "I will not allow it."

Ali is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists for allegedly funneling money to Al-Shabab, which is fighting a continuing civil war in Somalia. Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, also is on trial for conspiracy and allegedly giving false statements to the FBI. The trial is expected to last up to three weeks.

Ali's attorney, Dan Scott, said his client was exercising her First Amendment rights. She refused to stand because of her interpretation of the Hadith, or the sayings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, Scott said. In the Hadith, Muhammad told people who stood up when they saw him that they "over-honored" him. Basically, he said not to stand up for him.

"Her interpretation is the only thing she stands for is God," Scott said.

Said Ali, through an interpreter: "I worry about my salvation."

But in his ruling, Davis noted that while she refused to stand when he or the prospective jurors entered or left the courtroom, she did stand up -- once.

"Evidently, the defendant's professed religious beliefs did not prevent her from standing when she was introduced to prospective jurors," Davis ruled. "Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendant Ali's failure to rise when Court is called constitutes criminal contempt."

Nine terror suspects on trial in Australia in 2007 refused to stand up in court. In January 2010, seven Muslim defendants on trial in Great Britain also refused to stand.

But on Monday, Ali's co-defendant, Hassan, stood each time the judge's assistant said, "All rise." In fact, every person in the courtroom rose and stood each time the judge and jurors came and went -- even several other Somalis who were there to watch the first day of the trial. Ali was the only one to stay seated.

Prosecutors allege that Ali and Hassan, who live in Rochester, raised money for Al-Shabab fighters. Sometimes they did it openly, investigators say. Sometimes they allegedly used a ruse of collecting money and clothing for refugees.

Monday was supposed to be the day the jury was selected. But that process was delayed several times, with Davis repeatedly warning Ali that he would penalize her if she continued to refuse to stand. At one point, he threatened to have her removed from the courtroom if she remained seated. He did not do that Monday, but the possibility remains.

Jury selection is expected to wrap up Tuesday, and both sides are expected to give opening statements.

Davis held out a chance for Ali to change her mind Tuesday and, perhaps, get out of her jail cell. He will allow her time to meet with three "learned imams" -- Muslim religious leaders -- to "discuss her interpretation" of Islamic teachings.

If Ali becomes "enlightened" after that, Davis told Scott, "you can always bring a motion" to have her released.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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