ADVERTISEMENT

Women in Muslim dress prayed outside the courthouse before the verdict was read at the terror trial of two Minnesota women.

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Oct. 20: Rochester women guilty of aiding Somali terror group

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH and ROSE FRENCH
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • October 20, 2011 - 11:14 PM

Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan barely blinked when the guilty verdicts were read Thursday in a heavily guarded federal courtroom in Minneapolis.

The two Rochester women sat quietly as they were convicted of conspiring to support terrorists in their native Somalia, Ali's lips moving continuously as if reciting something.

But after the jury left and Ali was asked if she had anything to say to the court, she did not hold back.

"I am very happy," she said defiantly through a translator. "I'm going to the heaven no matter. ... Also, you guys go to the hell," she said referring to those whom she believes are against Muslims.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis listened as Ali went on. "We know God. We know justice. And also I'm very sorry for the one who doesn't know God and who puts the injustice [on the people]."

Davis ruled that Ali, 35, will stay in jail until her sentencing. Hassan, 65, who remained silent, will be sent to a halfway house if there's room while she awaits sentencing.

The two women were immediately taken into custody, joining several other Minnesota Somalis convicted in a wide-ranging federal investigation into alleged recruitment and fundraising for Al-Shabab -- classified by U.S. authorities in February 2008 as a foreign terrorist organization linked to Al-Qaida.

Theirs was the first case to go to trial.

Hassan and Ali, both U.S. citizens who came here as refugees from Somalia, were convicted of conspiring to provide material support to Al-Shabab in fundraising that prosecutors called "a deadly pipeline" of money and fighters from the United States to Somalia.

Al-Shabab and other militia groups are fighting a U.N.-backed transitional federal government in Somalia's long-running civil war.

'Conscious choice'

"The verdict reaffirms the principle that everyone who lives within our borders has to obey our laws," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen said. "These two defendants made a conscious choice to violate U.S. laws by sending money to an organization that they knew was a terrorist organization. And today, they were held accountable for that choice."

He stressed that two people were on trial, not the entire Somali-American community or their faith.

The trial was closely watched, drawing large crowds of Somali-Americans to the federal courthouse this week to support Hassan and Ali as they awaited the verdict.

The jury's decision came a few hours after jurors began their third full day of deliberation following the two-week trial. The jury was composed of 10 women and two men, all from the Rochester area.

Hassan and Ali's supporters, who numbered more than 100, waited in the federal courthouse lobby and adjacent cafe. Only a fraction of them were allowed to go upstairs to the 15th-floor courtroom to hear the verdict live. Security was beefed up this week, and on Thursday, more than a dozen U.S. marshals stood inside Davis' courtroom as the gallery filled with observers -- including Hassan and Ali's supporters.

After the proceedings, dozens of Somali-American women left the courtroom sobbing.

Abdinasir Abdi, who spoke on behalf of both women's families after the verdict, said family members are saddened by the jury's decision and had "hoped they would be freed. You can see the faces of people, they are crying. It's just a sad time."

Ali's husband was stunned by the jury's decision and by the reality that she was sent to jail immediately, said Ali's attorney, Daniel Scott.

Defense attorney Tom Kelly, who represented Hassan, expressed disappointment after hearing the verdict. Both he and Ali's lawyer, Daniel Scott, said they would decide whether to appeal after the judge sentences the women.

Kelly said he was optimistic about the upcoming sentencing decision, noting that the guidelines are "pretty flexible" in Hassan's case.

"We're disappointed, of course, but I think our client understands that she got a fair trial and that the prosecutors dealt honestly with her. And that she knows she's got one of the most experienced and fair-minded judges in her case," Kelly said.

In a nod to concerns Hassan and Ali's supporters raised about trusting the U.S. courts, Kelly added: "We hope she and all the Somali people understand she really did have a fair trial and the U.S. system of justice is really a good model."

Fear of backlash

The verdict brought a dramatic close to an emotional trial.

Prosecutors said that from September 2008 through July 2009, the women conspired to provide material support to Al-Shabab, knowing it was considered a terrorist group.

Prosecutors allege that 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.

Lawyers for Ali and Hassan, however, said that their clients did not know about the designation and were sincere in their efforts to help the needy back in Somalia. As survivors of war themselves, and as religious women, they felt compelled to aid those still struggling in Somalia, the defense argued.

Ali also faced 12 counts of providing support for allegedly sending more than $8,600 to Al-Shabab from September 2008 through July 2009.

Additionally, Hassan was charged with two counts of lying to FBI agents.

Each terrorism count carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence, while each count of lying to the FBI carries an eight-year maximum sentence.

Away from the courthouse, other Somali-Americans had a different story.

Dahir Jibreel, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said he had faith in the judicial process and did not want to "second guess" the verdict.

"This verdict has been [delivered by] the legal system of the United States, which I trust is one of the best in the world," he said.

That said, he said he fears the verdict could create a backlash of sentiment against Somalis in Minnesota or across the country because of the high-profile nature of the case over the past few years.

"You know there was quite a focus on the Somali community here including the disappearance of young youth," he said. "The case was the most high-profile prosecution against connections to Al-Shabab. Because of those things, I am concerned."

Staff writer Richard Meryhew contributed to this report. ashah@startribune.com • 612-673-4488 rose.french@startribune.com • 612-673-4352

© 2014 Star Tribune