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U.S. charges 14 with giving support to Somali insurgent group
Hammami, 26, is a native of Alabama and a key player in al-Shabab's efforts to recruit supporters in the United States and other Western nations, officials said. Hammami, who goes by Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, or "the American," appeared in a rap-themed video this spring that attracted widespread attention online.
"He has assumed an operational role in that organization," Holder said.
Like Anwar al-Aulaqi, the Muslim cleric in Yemen tied to recent terrorist plots, Hammami is seen as a "bridge figure" who uses his familiarity with U.S. culture to appeal to Western audiences. But Aulaqi is known primarily for his radical online sermons, whereas Hammami has earned credibility as a fighter in Somalia's civil war, counterterrorism experts said.
"This guy actually has operational experience," Cilluffo said. "He is one of the top jihadi pop stars."
Mostafa, 28, is also an increasingly important figure, officials said. A U.S. citizen and former resident of San Diego, Mostafa served as a top lieutenant to Saleh Nabhan, a senior al-Qaeda and al-Shabab operative killed in a U.S. military strike last year. Since then, Mostafa "is believed to have ascended to the inner circle of al-Shabab leadership," a U.S. counterterrorism official said.
Mostafa is believed to have met Aulaqi about a decade ago in San Diego, the official said, although it is unclear whether they have remained in contact.
The only suspects taken into custody were Amina Farah Ali, 33, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 63, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Somalia who resided in Rochester, Minn. The two women are accused of working with counterparts in Somalia to hold conference calls with Somali natives in Minnesota, urging them to "forget about" other charities and focus on "the Jihad," according to charges filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
The records indicate that the women collected more than $8,000 in donations since 2008. They routed the money to al-Shabab recipients in Somalia through "hawala" transfers widely used in Third World countries to move money and bypass traditional banks. Hassan is also accused of making false statements to the FBI; she had denied that she was involved in raising funds for al-Shabab.
Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.