Federal authorities accused 14 people in three states Thursday of aiding the terrorist group Al-Shabab. The charges in Minnesota, California, and Alabama offered more evidence of the Somalia-based group’s reach in the U.S. and included allegations that two Minnesota women were soliciting door-to-door donations for jihad.
Probes of Al-Shabab have already led to the charges against 19 people in Minnesota alone. As NEWSWEEK reported in January 2009, a number of Somali nationals in America have traveled or planned to travel back to the East African country to join Al-Shabab, leading investigators to probe whether the group was actively recruiting in America. Al-Shabab has also lured Americans by using the Internet to connect with people who share its radical view of Islam. In July, authorities caught Zachary Chesser—a 20-year-old would-be jihadi from Virginia who threatened the creators of South Park—at a New York airport on his way to Somalia. He later admitted he was trying to join Al-Shabab and had espoused its anti-Western message online.
Al-Shabab has claimed credit for bombings in Uganda in July and has repeatedly threatened African countries that contribute to U.N. forces assigned to keep peace in lawless Somalia. Authorities say the group has direct links to Al Qaeda. The federal government designated Al-Shabab as a terrorist organization in 2009, freeing investigators to bring criminal charges against individuals who help the group or even attempt to do so.
The latest charges, contained in indictments unsealed on Thursday, targeted Omar Hammami, an Alabama native whom The New York Times Magazine profiled in January. Jehad Mostafa, of California, was also charged with providing support to Al-Shabab. Both are believed to be in Somalia and are not in custody.
Two other female alleged jihadi sympathizers, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, were accused of fundraising for Al-Shabab in Minneapolis. Ali, 33, and Hassan, 63, allegedly walked through the city's Somali neighborhoods asking for donations. Ali also hosted at least two teleconferences in 2008 and 2009 during which she asked listeners to direct their money to the jihad rather than to Somalia’s poor, federal authorities alleged. One call allegedly raised more than $2,000. The Justice Department also said in a news release that Ali raised money “under the false pretense” that it was going to help the poor. After collecting the money, Ali would allegedly send it to Somalia using the informal hawala money transfer system. The charges list 12 such transfers and accuse Ali of using false names for the recipients of the funds.
The remaining charges unveiled Thursday targeted 10 other people in Minnesota federal court, seven of whom had been previously charged with other offenses as part of a two-year federal investigation.