The son of a Somali singer and political activist gunned down by Al-Shabab operatives last year is suing an international money-transfer company with ties to Minnesota for allegedly paying a bounty on her life.
The lawsuit comes more than a year after the death of Saado Ali Warsame, 64, a Somali icon who lived in New York and Minneapolis before returning to her homeland in 2012. Her longtime push for social justice included roles in pushing out the country's military regime and becoming one of the country's first female members of parliament. Her death was mourned from Mogadishu to Minneapolis.
The lawsuit may mark the first time a company has been sued for providing funding to Al-Shabab, said Joshua Arisohn, an attorney for Warsame's 22-year-old son Harbi Hussein, who lives in Minneapolis.
Not long before her death, Warsame pointed her criticism toward Dahabshiil, Africa's largest money-transfer business, which facilitates most of the $1.6 billion sent to Somalia each year. The company, which houses a subsidiary headquarters in Minneapolis, is widely used by Minnesota Somalis to wire money to relatives back home, but it has been under international scrutiny for a lack of security in how money is transferred — and to whom, including potential terrorists in Somalia.
Last year, according to the lawsuit, the Kenyan government temporarily suspended Dahabshiil's operations after an Al-Shabab-led attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in 2013. Several western commercial banks have ceased doing business with Dahabshiil, in part out of concerns over terrorist financing, according to the lawsuit.
Warsame was an outspoken critic of the company, writing a protest song playing off the business' name, which means "gold smelter." She instead called Dahabshiil a "blood smelter" and urged Somalis not to do business there. A music video by Warsame featured a rifle dripping with blood next to the company's name.
According to the lawsuit, Dahabshiil "placed a multimillion-dollar bounty" on Warsame as a result of the song. She was killed in July 2014 by two Al-Shabab operatives in Mogadishu; they were sentenced to death and executed in May.
The lawsuit demands damages for pain and suffering by Hussein because of the loss of his mother. He declined a comment through Arisohn.
Arisohn, whose New York-based law firm has handled terror financing cases for nine years, said others could be out there.
"We are working hard to unearth all of the institutions who are financing terrorism, and I think it's incumbent on the government and private citizens alike to investigate these matters and make sure that financial institutions like Dahabshiil are putting in place the safeguards that they are supposed to have," Arisohn said.
Dahabshiil PVT said in a statement that the claim is "completely absurd and absolutely false. We have absolutely no involvement whatsoever with the funding of terrorist organisations … Every customer (who) uses our services to transfer money is clearly identified and subject to a rigorous due diligence process before and during every transaction. We operate as a fully licensed and internationally regulated money services business with the full confidence of our banking partners.
We intend to defend this meritless claim in the strongest manner possible."
Arisohn said he intends to get the case to trial as quickly as possible on behalf of Hussein.
"It's devastating whenever you lose a parent, but to lose your mother who was bravely trying to help a country in dire need and was assassinated, it truly is devastating," he said.