Supporters of the Somali women charged in the case rallied at the courthouse.
Hibaq Aden left, and her sister Zam Zam Aden along with a large group of women from the Somali community showed their support for two Minnesota woman who are accused of funneling money to a terrorist group in Somalia. The women gathered outside the U.S. district court in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota on Monday. Amina Farah Ali 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, are accused of being part of what prosecutors called a "deadly pipeline" that sent more than $8,600 and fighters from the U.S.. to Somalia.
As the jury in the trial of two Rochester Somali women accused of supporting terrorists overseas began deliberations late Monday, a large group of the women's supporters held a court of their own outside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
They decried the charges and the surveillance methods FBI agents used in their investigation of Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, both U.S. citizens who are the first to be tried in connection with one of the most extensive counterterrorism inquiries since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"All Somalis around the world are listening to this case," shouted Abdinasir Abdi, who led the impromptu protest. "If these women go free, we are going to trust the system. If not, we will always be suspicious of the government. Free our women! Free the humanitarian workers!"
"Yeah!" responded the mostly female crowd in unison.
For many, the trial is seen as a litmus test for relations between the Somali community and government.
The outcry surprised Omar Jamal, a longtime Somali community activist who has attended the trial regularly.
"The reaction from the community is quite unimaginable. Anger, frustration, disappointment," he said. "I have seen women crying; I have seen men very emotional."
It's an indication of how symbolic this case has become for people in the Somali diaspora.
"Everybody is watching this," Jamal said. "This is a very important and a very crucial case."
Ali, 35, is charged with conspiracy and providing material support to a known foreign terrorist organization for allegedly funneling money to Al-Shabab.
The group is fighting the transitional federal government for control of Somalia. The State Department designated Al-Shabab as a terrorist group in February 2008.
Hassan, 64, is charged with conspiracy and with allegedly lying to FBI agents during their investigation.
Prosecutors allege that Ali and Hassan raised money for Al-Shabab, by going door to door to solicit donations for the poor and needy, and also by hosting fundraising teleconferences.
At the heart of the government's case are audio recordings from 10 months when the FBI tapped Ali's phones.
Snippets of the conversations, which were in Somali, were played for the jury during the trial. English transcripts of the calls were provided.
On Monday, during closing arguments, prosecutors charged that Ali and Hassan were plugged in to the events in Somalia and knew full well that Al-Shabab is considered a foreign terrorist organization.
They followed the news about the civil war in Somalia closely on the Internet and talked on the phone to Al-Shabab leaders, said Steven Ward, an attorney with the Department of Justice in Washington.
He reminded jurors of earlier testimony from a U.N. expert on Somalia, who said that although Al-Shabab was designated a terror group in February 2008, it wasn't until March that word spread about the designation.
"When it did, it was like wildfire," Ward said. "It was all over the Internet."
No actual knowledge?
Daniel Scott, Ali's attorney, said during his closing argument that the government did not show that Ali had "actual knowledge" of Al-Shabab's classification. He argued that Ali's cause was Islam and patriotism -- not terrorism: Al-Shabab arose from a faction that fought against Ethiopian troops invited into Somalia in 2006 by the country's then-president to fight that faction, known as the Islamic Courts Union, Scott said. Many Somalis, he continued, decried the invasion and sought to defend the territory. Al-Shabab, he said, was effective in combatting the Ethiopians.
There's been one consistent theme in Ali's life, he argued, and "it's not Al-Shabab. It's Islam."
Furthermore, he argued, Ali and Hassan had been collecting money for charity for years before Al-Shabab formed, and before the State Department classification.
He added that, despite the recording of 30,000 phone calls and the searches of Ali's computer and e-mail, there is no proof she knew Al-Shabab was considered a terrorist organization. "If it was all over the Internet, then why isn't it in her computer?" he asked.
Hassan's attorney, Tom Kelly, argued that she was not part of any conspiracy and that her actions came from humanitarian motives.
The jury is to continue deliberating Tuesday.
Most others facing similar charges have already entered pleas.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488