Name(s): Amina Farah Ali/ Hawo Mohamed Hassan

Date(s) of Birth: Unknown

Place(s) of Birth: Somalia

Citizenship(s): Naturalized US Citizens

Date of Indictment/Conviction: July 6, 2010/ October 2011

Charge(s):

Amina Farah Ali: one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab and twelve counts of providing material support to al-Shabaab.

Hawo Mohamed Hassan: one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a terroristic organization and two counts of making false statements to authorities

Key Issues: The Dubious Nature of Material Support to terrorism/terrorist organization

Case Profile:

On July 6, 2010 Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan were indicted on charges related to charitable fundraising activities they had conducted over the past two years to aid impoverished people in Somalia. The two Somali-born women were indicted for providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization, in this case, Somali based Al-Shabab. Both Ali and Hassan are naturalized US citizens and therefore have access to all rights accessible to all other citizens in the United States guaranteed by the US constitution.

Around the date of February 26, 2008 Al-Shabab was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States State Department. According to government documents, the two Somali-Muslim women, from September 17, 2008 to July 19, 2009, knowingly conspired and collaborated with others to contribute material support to Al- Shabab. The stated goal for giving money to Al-Shabab, according to her attorney, is that Ali felt that aid sent to Somalia was taken by corrupt government officials and never reached the people the aid intended to help the poor and the needy. She had felt that by sending the aid to different people, and not to the government, that it might get to the people who need it the most. According to her lawyer, Hassan was singularly interested in helping out the poor and needy. According to an article by the Star Tribune, Hassan even tried to distance herself from Ali by saying that she realized that Al-Shabab had done terrible things and unlike Ali, start an investment in a senior health center.

These arguments were rejected by the judge based on a collection phone records which prosecutors pointed to demonstrate that Ali was callous in regards to civilian life in support of Al-Shabab and that there was no rift between Ali and Hassan because the phone records did not indicate so, while evidence of Hassan’s work to invest in a senior health center were evident. As a result, US Judge Michael Davis sentenced Ali to 20 years in federal prison with supervised release for life following prison and Hassan to 10 years in federal prison with supervised release for life following prison, as well. According to court documents Hassan was to be transferred to a halfway house soon after the trial finished. A halfway house is intended for people who are to reintegrate into society after having been released from prison. While residing in the halfway house these people are still under supervision, either by the government, or a “for profit” entity, even after being released from prison.

The trial and the treatment of the two women has come under much scrutiny from not only the women’s attorneys but also members of the Somali-Muslim-American community, particularly in Rochester, Minnesota were the women used to reside. The most prominent criticism has been of the presiding judge’s own biases towards Islam. During the proceedings the judge asked the two women if they supported jihad, suicide bombings and Sharia law and asked if Hassan knew that some Muslim women wear dresses and short skirts. The Council on American-Islamic Relations took issue with this line of questions because they felt it suggested a link between Islamic thought, culture and behavior and violence and threatened to bring legal action against the judge.

The sentences the women received were also criticized. At Hassan’s advanced age her lawyer questioned whether she would be able to survive the entirety of her sentence making the argument that his client had essentially been given a life sentence. Moreover, members of the local Minnesotan Somali community noted that it was odd that the women, who ostensibly were helping to cloth the needy in their home country, received longer sentences than Somali men who had gone to Somalia and picked up arms to fight in against foreign forces.

In 2012, Hawo Mohamed Hassan requested that she be given a 10-hour furlough for her stay in the halfway house to be able to participate in Eid-al-fitr prayer and communal activities. Prosecutors argued that keeping Hassan out of public sight was best for it might cause the Minnesotan Somali community to treat her case as a celebrated case and cause unrest, this was despite the recommendation of her halfway house monitor who believed that letting Hassan participate in religious and communal activities would be fine. The prosecutors argued that she forfeited the right to see her family and community when she was found guilty the previous year. This argument contradicts the very nature of Hassan’s sentence to a halfway house as it is the purpose of a halfway house to help reintegrate the occupant into society. Forbidding Hassan from seeing her community and family is the opposite of such a project. The judge in the case rejected request for furlough without explaining his specific reasoning other than pointing to the court documents which had been developed as a result of previous legal deliberation on Hassan’s case.

Finally, a larger troubling legal issue arises in the convictions in this case. Both Ali and Hassan are United States citizens, and therefore afforded all the rights that all Americans are endowed by the United States constitution. This includes the right to free speech. In this case the prosecutors argued that since several nations recognize the transitional government of Somalia as the legitimate ruler; it is against US law to be critical of any forces which attack the transitional government. Since the women were convicted of the charges of material support to a foreign terrorist organization the arguments made by the prosecutors take larger weight and importance in American society. As Somalis, Ali and Hassan are most likely concerned for their home nation, evidenced by their organization of clothing drives and in Hassan’s case also helping to create an elder care center, and would be rightly concerned if any foreign forces attacked the people of their home country, threatening the very lives their fellow country members. As Americans, Ali and Hassan, have the right to be critical of governmental policies anywhere in the world as afforded them through their first amendment rights. To threaten their ability to express opposition to the transitional government of Somalia has implications for the types of speech all Americans can express in their daily lives and therefore sets a dangerous precedent which puts limits on American speech and hurts the very democratic principles of the first amendment and the US constitution on the foundations of which the American legal system rests.

Annotated Links:

1) Contains the pertinent documents and evidence in the sentencing of Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan: http://www.investigativeproject.org/case/480

Two indictments were unsealed in the District of Minnesota. The first indictment charged Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan with providing funds to al-Shabaab. In October 2011, a federal jury convicted Ali and Hassan of providing material support to al-Shabaab.

2) More Terrorism Sentences Imposed in Federal Court: http://www.justice.gov/usao/mn/hawohassensentenced.html

This article produced by the United States Justice department documents the sentences given to Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan. It tells of the period in which the two women were engaged in the activity which led to their convictions. This article contains the thoughts and philosophy of the US government, court system and government legal officials on preventing the rise of terrorist organizations.

3) Two Minnesota Women Convicted of Providing Material Support to al Shabaab: http://www.fbi.gov/minneapolis/press-releases/2011/two-minnesota-women-convicted-of-providing-material-support-to-al-shabaab

This produced by the FBI documents the convictions and sentencing of Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan by US District Court of Minnesota Judge Michael Davis. The article contains experts of testimony given at trial by the two defendants which support the verdict drawn by the judge in the case. The article congratulates the FBI for their work in investigating the case and finding the women.

4) 2 Minnesota women sentenced in Somali terror case: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2013/05/17/news/women-sentenced-somali-terror-case

This article explains how the women became involved in the program of charity to help the impoverished in Somalia and their rationale for trying to work with Al-Shabab as opposed to government officials in Somalia. The article also cite critical remarks from the defendants lawyers and the Somali-Muslim-American community to the sentences that the women received as too long for the activities with which the women were engaged as well as being almost a life sentence for the elder defendant. The members of the local Somali-Muslim-American community also criticized the treatment of women during the trial trying to like Islamic culture and belief to violence.

5) Somali reaction to al-Shabab sentences mixed: http://news.yahoo.com/somali-reaction-al-shabab-sentences-mixed-154330828.html

This article discusses the sentencing of a number of Somali people who have been convicted for various crimes in relation to operations of Al-Shabab. The article compares the sentences of Ali/Hassan to men who had gone to Somalia to take up arms against invading forces and found that Ali/Hassan’s sentences to be longer.

6) Convicted fundraiser for Somali terrorists seeks 10-hour furlough for worship: http://www.twincities.com/ci_21257884/convicted-fundraiser-somali-terrorists-seeks-10-hour-furlough

This article explains that Hawo Hassan,  who was sentenced to a halfway house after prison, asked the judge who sentenced her for a furlough to participate in religious activity of prayer and meet her family during the celebration of Muslim holiday Eid-al-Fitr. The prosecutors argued that virtue of her conviction she had forfeited right to be among community and meet her family, that she might become a celebrated cause for the Somali-Muslim-American community and that other non-Muslim community members might cause disruptions due to her release into society. These arguments were made despite the recommendation of her halfway house monitor who said it would be okay for her to attend community functions and that the purpose of a halfway house is intended to reintegrate a person into society.

7) Judge rejects Ramadan furlough request from halfway house: http://www.twincities.com/ci_21309672/judge-rejects-womans-ramadan-furlough-request

This article explains that the presiding judge in Hassan’s case rejected the furlough request without given any explanation other than for people to refer to previous court documents.