Judge won’t dismiss Rochester women’s terror case

Published 2:33 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge won’t dismiss the indictment against two Minnesota women accused of funneling money to the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia, saying their alleged conduct is not protected under the First Amendment.

Amina Farah Ali, 34, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, are scheduled to face trial Oct. 3 on multiple charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Their attorneys had asked that the charges be dismissed, arguing their clients were charged under an unconstitutional statute. Among other things, the attorneys argued it violates the women’s rights to free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religious expression and right to due process.

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Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis disagreed in an opinion filed Monday, and said the defendants’ various arguments had no legal merit.

“Providing funds to a terrorist organization is conduct, not speech that is protected by the First Amendment,” he wrote.

Prosecutors have said the women, who live in Rochester, were part of a “deadly pipeline” routing money and fighters from the U.S. to al-Shabab. They allegedly went door-to-door to collect funds and held teleconferences to solicit donations for the terror group. In one of those calls, prosecutors say, Ali told others to “forget about the other charities” and focus on “the Jihad.”

The women have said they are innocent and were collecting money and clothing for refugees in Somalia.

“At trial, the Defendants are free to argue that they had no knowledge that the funds they raised and sent to Somalia were meant for al-Shabaab,” Davis said.

He also wrote that even if the money was not intended for illegal activities, providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization for peaceful conduct could further terrorism by freeing up the group’s resources for violence.

In addition to asking that the case be dismissed, an attorney for Ali had asked that some statements she made to authorities, and evidence found in the trash outside her apartment, be kept out of the trial. Davis denied those requests as well.

In recent years, Minneapolis has been the center of a federal investigation into the travels of more than 20 Somali men who left Minnesota to possibly fight with al-Shabab. Including the two Rochester women, a total of 20 people have been charged in Minnesota in connection with the investigations into the travelers and terror financing.

Other people in San Diego and St. Louis have also been charged with sending money to al-Shabab, which the U.S. says has ties to al-Qaida.