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City part of terror pipeline?

Columbus tie found in scheme to aid Somali militants; extent downplayed

By By Jonathan Riskind and Jack Torry
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
August 6, 2010
Amina Farah Ali, of Rochester, Minn., was one of 14 people charged with raising money for a Somali terrorist group.
Amina Farah Ali, of Rochester, Minn., was one of 14 people charged with raising money for a Somali terrorist group. Court documents say someone in Columbus helped Ali.

WASHINGTON - An unidentified person from Columbus helped raise money for a terrorist group in Somalia, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In addition, a handful of Somali women in Columbus who raised money door to door for health-care aid in their native country were questioned in the federal case, a leader of a local Somali community group said yesterday.

In four indictments unsealed yesterday in federal courts in Minnesota, Alabama and California, the Justice Department charged 14 people with terrorist violations, accusing them of "providing money, personnel and services to the foreign terrorist organization al-Shabab."

An indictment in Minnesota says that someone from Columbus is an unindicted conspirator who helped one of those charged - Amina Farah Ali, 33, who court documents say is a Somali national who became a U.S. citizen in August 2004 and lived in Minnesota.

The person from Columbus is called "unindicted conspirator 7," or "UC7," in the court documents. He or she was "a resident of Columbus, Ohio, who assisted Ali in collecting money and forwarding it to al-Shabab." It isn't clear whether that person remains here.

Being an unindicted conspirator "simply means that the government believes the person was involved with the conspiracy but at this time has not been charged," said Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota. The term does not indicate whether the person will be charged.

The documents say that on Jan. 12, 2009, Ali directed "UC7" to "always collect under the name of the poor" so the money could be sent to terrorist fighters in Somalia.

The court documents say that Ali and others charged in the case "raised funds by soliciting door to door among Somali communities located in Rochester (Minn.) and Minneapolis and elsewhere in the United States and Canada," some of which Ali directed to al-Shabab.

Ali made 12 money transfers to al-Shabab in 2008 and 2009 totaling $8,608, the indictment said.

In addition, the indictment alleges that Ali raised money by appealing to participants in teleconferences during which she and other speakers encouraged financial support to back violent jihad in Somalia.

A leader in the Columbus Somali community said he does not know who the unindicted conspirator is and that he had never heard of anyone collecting money for terrorists under the guise of charity.

"I'm very much disappointed with what I heard," Mussa Farah, president of the Horn of Africa Community Center, said yesterday. "That's what we have been preventing for the last two years."

Since 2008, Farah and 11 other volunteers have gone door to door in local Somali neighborhoods telling parents to be cautious of anyone who might try to lead their children toward extremist ideologies. Now, Farah said, he'll tell them to be wary of anyone asking for money.

"People should only give to institutions where money can be followed," he said.

Somali community members meet quarterly with police and the FBI to discuss concerns and address problems, and a Columbus-based anti-crime program announced in April allows Somali immigrants across the country to report crimes in their native language.

Jibril Hirsi, executive director of SomaliCAN, a local advocacy and outreach organization, said some Somali women in Columbus presented prospective donors with sad stories of people who needed surgery for cleft lips, tumors and other medical issues. But Hirsi said they likely did not know where the money was headed.

He said the women typically carried photographs of people said to need surgery outside Somalia.

"I don't think anyone in Columbus did anything intentionally to support al-Shabab," Hirsi said.

Columbus has the second-largest Somali population in the United States after greater Minneapolis.

Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking in Washington, said: "The indictments unsealed today shed further light on the deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to the al-Shabab terror organization from cities across the United States."

Roughly 20 men - all but one of Somali descent - left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join al-Shabab, the government says.

Al-Shabab, which routinely beheads its enemies, is an Islamist army whose several thousand fighters are battling Somalia's weak government. It has been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and other nations. In turn, it 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.

Al-Shabab members began pledging allegiance to al-Qaida last year. One of its most famous members is known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, or "the American," an Alabama native who speaks English with an American accent. He appeared in a jihadist video in May 2009.

Some of those charged were in custody, but yesterday the FBI arrested Ali, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 63, both naturalized U.S. citizens and residents of Rochester, Minn. Each is charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Shabab from September 2008 through last month. Ali also is charged with 12 counts of providing material support to al-Shabab.

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Dispatch reporter Collin Binkley, the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this story.

Source: Columbus Dispatch

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