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

Craig Lassig, Associated Press

Terror suspect resists the rules of court and jail

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 5, 2011 - 6:55 AM

The days in jail are racking up for a Rochester woman on trial for terrorism-related charges.

Citing her religious beliefs, Amina Farah Ali continued to stay seated Tuesday as others in the federal courtroom rose to their feet whenever court personnel called out, "All rise."

For the second day in a row, U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis found Ali, 35, in contempt of court each time she failed to stand and added five more days in jail for each infraction.

That brings the total number of days she must serve after the trial to 75 so far.

Ali's first night in jail also put her religious beliefs in conflict with authority, as she resisted donning the orange jumpsuit required of all federal prisoners at the Sherburne County jail.

She said her clothes were forcibly removed and she was dressed in the jumpsuit. She also said she was put into a cell where there was a camera and she did not know if men were watching so she did not use the toilet.

"Last night, when I was asked to disrobe, what happened was they came to the cell and some of them stepped on me when they were trying to handcuff me," she said.

U.S. Marshals supervisor Chris Connolly did not dispute Ali's version of events but said jail protocol was followed.

"She didn't want to dress in jail clothes, and she had to dress in jail clothes," Connolly said. "Sherburne County followed policy procedure and got her dressed in jail clothes, and that's about it."

Sherburne County jail staffers used a minimal amount of force, he said. No one was injured, he said, and no complaint was filed, to his knowledge. Female jail staff members were involved in forcing Ali to change, he said.

"Whatever I'm dealing with is because of my religion," Ali continued. "I feel that I'm being persecuted. I can no longer tolerate this kind of punishment."

Davis then asked Ali why she continued to defy the court, even after she spoke on Monday night with three "learned elders" from the Somali community who told her it was OK to rise before the judge. She acknowledged that they were learned but said they didn't show the proof of what they were telling her.

Ali has said her decision to not stand during court proceedings stems from her interpretation of hadith, a collection of sayings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. He is said to have told followers who stood up in his presence that they overhonored him with the gesture. Ali is interpreting that particular hadith to mean she should not get up in court for anyone.

The contention over courtroom and jail rules overshadowed opening arguments Tuesday afternoon, when attorneys for both sides sought to define the case.

Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, also of Rochester, are on trial in connection with an extensive FBI counterterrorism probe.

Both women are American citizens originally from Somalia. They are accused of collecting money for the poor and sending it overseas to support the terrorist group Al-Shabab in their native country.

Dan Scott, who represents Ali, told jurors that the case is about Somali women who came to the United States as refugees and never forgot the suffering they endured in refugee camps.

Out of this urge to give back, they raised money and collected clothes to send back to Somalia to help those still struggling to survive. "Amina Ali was trying to get her help to the people who she believed needed it the most. And for that she should not be convicted," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen outlined the government's case against the two women, citing information he said was gleaned from wiretapping Ali's phones for 10 months and records from local money-wiring agencies.

Ali and Hassan raised money for Al-Shabab through two methods, he said: Going door to door among local Somali-Americans and holding fundraising teleconferences.

Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report. Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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