MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two Minnesota women convicted of conspiring to send money to al-Shabab in Somalia were given prison sentences in federal court Thursday, ending a week of punishments tied to long-running investigations into recruiting and financing for the terrorist group.
Amina Farah Ali, 36, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 13 terrorism-related counts, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 66, received a 10-year term on one terror-related count and two counts of lying to the FBI.
Ali insisted during her 3½-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that she was only trying to help the poor in her war-torn homeland.
"Everything that I have done, I have done because I was trying to do good," Ali said. "My intention was to alleviate the suffering of people."
But prosecutors have said Ali and Hassan were part of a "deadly pipeline" that sent funds and fighters to al-Shabab. Authorities said they went door-to-door in the name of charity and held religious teleconferences to solicit donations, which they then routed to the fighters.
Defense attorneys painted the women as humanitarians who gave money to orphans and the poor, as well as to a group fighting to rid Somalia of foreign troops. At the time, Ethiopian troops brought into Somalia by its weak U.N.-backed government were viewed by many Somalis as invaders.
Ali's attorney, Dan Scott, told the court Ali learned that she needed to work with those in power if her money was going to reach its destination.
"This was not a choice between good and evil. This was a choice between evils," the lawyer said.
He added: "It's not terrorism. She backed the wrong horse."
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis asked Ali whether her donors knew the money was going to al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group that has been at the heart of much of the violence in Somalia in recent years.
"I did not send the money to al-Shabab. Al-Shabab was a vehicle used to get the money to the needy. It was not used for their own purposes," Ali said.
Hassan also spoke to Davis and apologized for her crimes, saying she accepted responsibility. She said she supported al-Shabab's efforts to rid Somalia of the Ethiopians, but once Ethiopian troops were gone, she disagreed with the violence.
"It's clear she was a cheerleader for al-Shabab at one point in time," her attorney, Randy Daar, said. "I think that has changed."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Paulsen disagreed. "She supported al-Shabab to the bitter end," he said.