U.S. charges 14 with giving support to Somali insurgent group

Attorney General Eric Holder says a number of people in Minnesota, California and Alabama are being charged with providing support for the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
By Greg Miller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 6, 2010

Federal authorities unsealed terrorism-related charges Thursday against 14 people accused of providing funding and recruits to a militant group in Somalia with ties to al-Qaeda, part of an expanding U.S. effort to disrupt what Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. called a "deadly pipeline" of money and fighters to al-Shabab.

It is the first time that the Justice Department has publicly revealed criminal charges against two U.S. citizens, Omar Hammami and Jehad Mostafa, who have risen through al-Shabab's ranks to become important field commanders for the organization.

The indictments were unsealed in Alabama, California and Minnesota, the latter being home to the largest Somali population in the United States.

In Minnesota, officials said, FBI agents arrested two women on Thursday on charges that included soliciting donations door-to-door for al-Shabab, which the United States designated a terrorist organization in 2008. The other 12 suspects were in Somalia or were otherwise at large.

The indictments "shed further light on a deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to al-Shabab from cities across the United States," Holder said. "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."

For years, al-Shabab was seen primarily as an insurgent group struggling to topple Somalia's weak government and to impose strict Islamic law. But the group's focus "has morphed over time," a senior FBI official said. Al-Shabab has attracted a growing number of foreign fighters to its camps and has demonstrated a new ability to export violence, and it has been praised by Osama bin Laden.

Last month, the group claimed responsibility for bombings in Uganda that killed at least 76 people. A State Department terrorism report released Thursday said al-Shabab and al-Qaeda "present a serious terrorist threat to American and allied interests throughout the Horn of Africa."

Holder said none of those charged is accused of plotting attacks against U.S. targets. Most are accused of sending money or signing up for a war aimed at ousting the U.S.-backed government in Mogadishu. Even so, al-Shabab's ties to al-Qaeda and its ability to tap support inside the United States have caused concern that the group could be used to carry out a domestic attack.

"What it reaffirms is that we do have a problem with domestic radicalization," said Frank J. Cilluffo, an official in the George W. Bush administration who heads the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

The indictments follow the arrest last month of Zachary Adam Chesser, 20, of Fairfax County, who was detained in New York while attempting to depart for Africa. Authorities said he planned to join al-Shabab.

As part of a multiyear FBI investigation, 19 people have been charged in Minnesota with supporting al-Shabab. Nine have been arrested, including five who have pleaded guilty; the others are not in custody.

But the most significant figures indicted are the two Americans who have emerged as battle-tested leaders of al-Shabab.

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