The Justice Department on Thursday unsealed four separate indictments accusing 14 people, including U.S. citizens, on terrorism charges for providing money, personnel and services to al-Shabaab, a terrorist group operating in Somalia with ties to al Qaeda.
Two of those named in the documents are women, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, both naturalized U.S. citizens and residents of Minnesota. They were arrested by FBI agents in Minnesota. The others are fugitives, many of whom are believed to be in Somalia.
“These indictments and arrests in Minnesota, Alabama, and California shed further light on a deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to al-Shabaab from cities across the United States,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in announcing the indictments.
“While our investigations are ongoing around the country, these arrests and charges should serve as an unmistakable warning to others considering joining or supporting terrorist groups like al-Shabaab: if you choose this route you can expect to find yourself in a U.S. jail cell or a casualty on the battlefield in Somalia,” Mr. Holder said.
Al-Shabaab is an Islamist insurgency organization aligned with al Qaeda that controls much of Somalia’s southern and central regions. With an estimated 3,000-7,000 members, it has waged jihad against the weak Somali Transitional Federal Government.
Last month, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for bombing in Uganda that killed 76 during the World Cup finals in what was the organization’s first international attack.
The indictments are the culmination of a long-running federal investigation that had focused, in part, on the disappearance of young men from a number of U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, who were believed to have been recruited by al-Shabaab and sent to Somalia some of whom later reported to have been killed in the fighting in that country.
An indictment unsealed in Minnesota accused 10 men with terrorism offenses for leaving the United States to join al-Shabaab as foreign fighters. Seven previously had been charged by either indictment or criminal complaint.
Additionally, two U.S. citizens and former residents of Alabama and California Omar Shafik Hammami and Jehad Serwan Mostafa have been charged in separate cases with providing material support to al-Shabaab. Both are believed to be in Somalia and fighting on behalf of al-Shabaab.
According to public reports, Mr. Hammami has appeared in several propaganda videos on behalf of al-Shabaab that have been distributed worldwide and he is believed to be a ranking member of the al-Shabaab organization with operational responsibilities.
Ms. Ali and Ms. Hassan, who were arrested in Minnesota, were charged with providing material support to terrorists, among other offenses.
The indictment said the two women raised money to support al-Shabaab through door-to-door solicitations and teleconferences in Somali communities in Minneapolis, Rochester and other locations in the United States and Canada. In some cases, the indictment said, the funds were raised under the false pretense that they would be used to aid the poor and the needy.
According to the indictment, Ms. Ali sent money to al-Shabaab through various hawalas, which are money transfer businesses common in the Islamic world. She was accused of sending nearly $9,000 to al-Shabaab on a dozen occasions between September 2008 and July 2009.
The indictment said that after her home was searched by FBI agents last year, she contacted an al-Shabaab leader in southern Somalia, saying: “I was questioned by the enemy here they took all my stuff and are investigating it do not accept calls from anyone.”
In Minnesota alone, a total of 19 defendants have been charged in connection with this investigation. Nine have been arrested in the United States or overseas, five of whom pleaded guilty. Ten of the charged defendants are not in custody and are believed to be overseas.
“As demonstrated by the charges unsealed today, we are seeing an increasing number of individuals including U.S. citizens who have become captivated by extremist ideology and have taken steps to carry out terrorist objectives, either at home or abroad,” Mr. Holder said.
“It’s a disturbing trend that we have been intensely investigating in recent years and will continue to investigate and root out,” he said. “But we must also work to prevent this type of radicalization from ever taking hold.”
Mr. Holder noted that members of the American Muslim community “have been and continue to be strong partners in fighting this emerging threat. They have regularly denounced terrorist acts and those who carry them out. And they have provided critical assistance to law enforcement in helping to disrupt terrorist plots and combat radicalization.”
He said many of the victims of terror attacks by al-Shabaab, al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups have been “innocent Muslims.”
The indictments were the result of investigations conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces in Minneapolis, San Diego and Mobile, Ala., with assistance from the Dutch KLPD; the Dutch Ministry of Justice, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the State Department, including U.S. Embassies in the United Arab Emirates and Yemen; the Hague in the Netherlands; and the Department of Defense.
Prosecutors include National Security Division Assistant Attorney General David Kris and the U.S. attorneys’ offices in Minnesota, Alabama and California.