Another twist in Rochester woman's terror trial

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2012 - 6:59 AM

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out 19 of 20 contempt citations against the Rochester woman who refused to stand before the judge and jury in the opening days of her terrorism trial last fall.

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Hawo Mohamed Hassan, left, and Amina Farah Ali have been convicted of conspiring to help terrorists and are waiting to be sentenced

Photo: Craig Lassig, Associated Press

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Amina Farah Ali's stand against standing up in court is not over yet.

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out 19 of 20 contempt citations against the Rochester woman who refused to stand before the judge and jury in the opening days of her terrorism trial last fall.

The three-judge panel sent the issue back to the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to consider her protest on religious freedom grounds.

The ruling issued Monday sends the case to Chief U.S. Judge Michael Davis, who presided over her trial. He cited Ali for contempt and ordered her to serve 100 days in jail -- five days for each time she did not rise from her chair when court staff gave the "all rise" call.

At the time, Ali told the judge she was not standing up out of disrespect, but because it was against her religious beliefs. Ali, who is a Muslim, cited her understanding of the Hadith, or the sayings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. She referenced a particular saying in which Mohammed told people who stood up when they saw him that they "over-honored" him with the gesture.

The judge noted that codefendant Hawo Mohamed Hassan, also a Muslim, stood up in accordance with courtroom protocol, as did their supporters seated in the gallery. Ali later told the judge she was ready to comply with his pre-trial order to stand up.

In the end, a jury convicted Ali and Hassan of conspiring to help terrorists in their native Somalia, by raising money for charity and sending some of it there. She and Hassan are now waiting to be sentenced. A sentencing date has not been set.

Monday's ruling represents another twist in the winding saga of Ali's protests to freely practice her religious beliefs.

The court ruled that Ali may not challenge the first contempt citation issued by Davis because she did not make a formal challenge. But the court should reconsider the following citations. Judge Raymond Gruender, the author of the ruling, wrote: "in analyzing defendant's objections to the order, the court only applied a First Amendment analysis and never evaluated whether the pretrial order was the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling state interest as required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

Ali's attorney, Daniel Scott, said the appellate court decision is "what I was hoping for."

He said he is hopeful about the outcome of Davis' review of the contempt findings in light of the religious freedom law. "I'm fairly confident that order in the court can happen whether someone stands up or not," Scott said.

Ali won another battle recently, when she was released from jail and allowed to stay in a halfway house instead. Originally she spent time in the Sherburne County jail, where she chose to eat most of her meals inside her cell instead of in the common areas because she was not allowed to wear her headscarf in jail. At the halfway house, she does not have to wear a uniform and can wear the headscarf, Scott said. "She's able to dress in her traditional dress and she's able to eat food that meets her religious diet, which is very helpful. She had lost a lot of weight."

Facing years in prison

During the closely watched trial in Minneapolis, prosecutors said that from September 2008 through July 2009, the women conspired to aid Al-Shabab, knowing the United States had designated it as a terrorist group. Ali and Hassan went door to door in Rochester and the Twin Cities and held fundraising teleconferences to solicit donations for the poor and needy and diverted some of it to Al-Shabab, the prosecutors said. Lawyers for Ali and Hassan argued that their clients did not know about the designation and were sincere in their efforts to help the needy back in Somalia.

A jury found Ali guilty of 12 counts of providing material support to a known foreign terrorist group and of one count of conspiracy to do so. Hassan was convicted of two counts of lying to the FBI in addition to conspiracy to provide material support to a known terrorist group. The two women face a possible maximum of 30 years in prison.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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  • Amina Farah Ali, left, was found guilty of supporting a known foreign terrorist group. She had refused to stand in court and told the judge it was against her religious beliefs

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