Defense: Fraction of calls played in terror case

AP News
Posted: Oct 13, 2011 6:20 PM
Defense: Fraction of calls played in terror case

A defense attorney for one of two women accused of funneling money to the terror group al-Shabab in Somalia showed Thursday that prosecutors selected a small fraction of conversations from hundreds of hours of recorded phone calls, suggesting they cherry-picked statements that would help buttress their case.

During cross-examination in the case against Amina Farah Ali, 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, Ali's attorney Dan Scott noted that in one recording, jurors heard only 41 seconds of a 20-minute call. In another conversation _ a 19-minute call while Hassan's house was being searched by the FBI _ only five minutes were played.

"So in that call, at least 14 minutes were not translated," Scott said. FBI Special Agent Kevin McGrane replied: "Correct."

The recorded calls are all in Somali. Jurors are following along with written transcripts that have been translated into English by the government.

Ali and Hassan are accused of being part of a "deadly pipeline" that routed money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia. The women, U.S. citizens of Somali descent, are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali also faces 12 counts of providing such support, while Hassan faces two counts of lying to the FBI _ a third count against Hassan was dropped Thursday. The women claim they were raising money for charity.

Prosecutors have spent days playing nearly 100 phone calls recorded during a 10-month wiretap on Ali's home and cellphone. Jurors have heard excerpts in which the women talk about jihad, seek pledges from participants in religious teleconferences, and talk about arranging to send money overseas. On Thursday, prosecutors played calls in which the women allegedly talked about being searched and questioned by the "enemy," which McGrane said refers to the FBI.

Some local Somalis watching the trial said playing only a portion of the recordings was unfair and didn't provide a full picture of what the women were doing.

"They just picked a selected part," said Mohamed Mohamed, a Rochester man who watched Thursday's proceedings. "You don't know what was said before, you don't know what was said after."

Investigators also searched Ali's trash during their monthslong investigation. While conducting a search warrant on the women's homes, investigators found photographs of fighters on Ali's computer, and notebooks containing names and numbers of people who the government alleged participated in teleconferences.

While cross-examining McGrane, Scott said some images found on Ali's computer were in temporary Internet files, meaning whoever used that computer simply clicked on the picture to view it, not save it or upload it.

Hassan's attorney, Tom Kelly, asked McGrane about interviews Hassan gave to the FBI. McGrane said those conversations were not recorded and Hassan's Miranda rights, which include the right to remain silent or the right to have an attorney present during questioning, were not read because she was not in custody.

"That was good for you, correct?" Kelly asked. "Absolutely," McGrane replied, later explaining that lawyers often tell clients not to speak during interviews. Kelly asked if agents would typically tell an interviewee if they think he or she is lying. McGrane said no.

"I usually give my interviewees enough rope to hang themselves," he said.

Kelly also pointed to one interview in which his client told the FBI she raised money for the poor, including $4,000 for 500 orphans whose parents were killed by Ethiopian troops in war-torn Somalia. Kelly said his client told the FBI she didn't know her activities were illegal.

Ali and Hassan are among 20 people charged in Minnesota's long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab, which the U.S. considers a terror group with ties to al-Qaida. Investigators believe at least 21 men left Minnesota _ home to the country's largest Somali community _ to join al-Shabab. Though others have pleaded guilty to related charges, the women are the first to go on trial.