Fourteen people have been accused of providing support to the Somali terrorist group Shabab in indictments unsealed Thursday that shed light on "a deadly pipeline" of funding and fighters to the group from cities across the United States, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said.
Most of those charged were U.S. citizens of Somali descent. It has long been known that disaffected Somali Americans were leaving their homes in Minnesota and other states to join Shabab, an Islamist army whose several thousand fighters are battling Somalia's weak government. The indictments show that the U.S. government is directing significant investigative resources at the problem.
Shabab, which routinely beheads its enemies, has been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and other nations, and in turn has declared war on the United Nations and humanitarian organizations in Somalia. The group claimed responsibility for a bombing last month that killed 76 people, including an American aid worker, who were watching a World Cup soccer match in Uganda's capital. It is not known to be responsible for an attack on U.S. soil.
Some of those charged were already in custody, but earlier Thursday, FBI agents arrested two women, Amina Farah Ali, 33, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 63, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Somalia and residents of Rochester, Minn. Each is charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to Shabab from September 2008 through last month. Ali is also charged with 12 counts of providing material support to Shabab, while Hassan is charged with three counts of making false statements.
"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," Holder said at a news conference.
A report in May by the Rand Corp. documented 14 domestic terrorist plots by U.S.-based Muslim extremists in 2009 and 46 since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The list includes the case of Najibullah Zazi, a permanent U.S. resident from Afghanistan who pleaded guilty in February to planning a suicide attack in New York, possibly on the subway; and that of Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army major charged with opening fire in November on fellow soldiers at Ft. Hood, Texas, killing 13.
Other plots emerged this year, including that of "Jihad Jane," the suburban Philadelphia native accused of supporting terrorism, and Faisal Shahzad, the Connecticut resident suspected in the Times Square bombing attempt.
The indictment accuses Ali and Hassan of raising donations to support Shabab through door-to-door solicitations and teleconferences in Somali communities in Minneapolis, Rochester and elsewhere, in some cases "under the false pretense that they would be used to aid the poor and the needy."
Ali made 12 money transfers to Shabab in 2008 and 2009 totaling $8,608, the indictment said.
On July 14, 2009, the day after the FBI executed a search warrant at her home, Ali allegedly told another conspirator, "I was questioned by the enemy here.… They took all my stuff and are investigating it.… Do not accept calls from anyone."
The U.S. government designated Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, and said it had ties to Al Qaeda.
The indictments allege illegal conduct in Minnesota, Alabama and California.
One of the indictments was issued in Southern California in October 2009, but the details are sketchy and the defendant, Jehad Serwan Mostafa, 28, remains at large. The indictment alleges that Mostafa, a U.S. citizen and former resident of San Diego, conspired to provide material support to terrorists. He faces a potential 15 years in prison for each of the three counts of the indictment, and is believed to be in Somalia.
The Minnesota investigation has been unfolding for some time. About 20 men -- all but one of Somali descent -- left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join Shabab, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia with an ideology akin to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Two indictments unsealed in Minnesota on Thursday added five names to a list of people charged in the investigation in that state, bringing the total charged there to 19. Nine have been arrested in the U.S. or overseas, five of whom pleaded guilty, Holder said. Ten are at large, believed to be overseas.
Shabab members began pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda last year. One of its most famous members is known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, or "the American," an Alabama native. He appeared in a jihadist video in May 2009.
In an unrelated case, a 26-year-old Chicago man was charged Wednesday with plotting to go to Somalia to become a suicide bomber for Al Qaeda and Shabab. Prosecutors told a judge that Shaker Masri attempted to provide support through the use of a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States.
In other terrorism-related developments Thursday, the State Department released its annual country report on terrorism. Among the findings was that there were more suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan last year than in Iraq, a sign of how the threat has shifted.