SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal jury in San Diego on Friday convicted four Somali immigrants — including an imam from a local mosque — of conspiring to funnel money to a terrorist group in their native country.
After a three-week trial and three days of deliberations, the jury convicted the four men of conspiring to raise and send money to Somalia's al-Shabaab. The men coordinated fundraising efforts and sent nearly $9,000 to al-Shabaab between 2007 and 2008, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Department of State designated al-Shabaab a terrorist group in 2008, saying it was responsible for targeted civilian assassinations and bombings in Somalia. Federal prosecutors have since cracked down on the group's U.S. support with the arrests of some two dozen people.
Those convicted Friday include 40-year-old Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, who prosecutors said used his connections as a popular imam at a mosque in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood to raise money for the group.
The other defendants were two San Diego taxi drivers, 36-year-old Basaaly Saeed Moalin and 56-year-old Issa Doreh, and 37-year-old Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud of Anaheim, whose financial transfer business Shidaal Express was used to route the money, prosecutors said.
Government attorneys played tapes of telephone calls, many of them between Moalin and the late Aden Hashi Ayrow, who was among the top leaders of al-Shabaab until he was killed in missile strike in May 2008.
On the tapes, Ayrow can be heard telling Moalin it was "time to finance the jihad" and "you are running late with the stuff, send some and something will happen."
Ayrow encouraged Moalin on the tapes to use the imam to help gather money.
Defense attorneys attacked both the editing and the translation of the tapes, saying overzealous prosecutors made money raised for humanitarian purposes appear sinister.
"They see al-Shabaab everywhere," defense attorney Joshua Dratel said during closing arguments, according to the newspaper UT San Diego.
Moalin, Doreh and Mohamed Mohamud were convicted of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and several counts of conspiracy. Nasir Mohamud was convicted of conspiracy and money laundering.
Sentencing was scheduled for May 16.
In December, 26-year-old Nima Ali Yusuf became the first woman sentenced in the crackdown within the Somali community. Yusuf, who fled war-torn Somalia as a child, received eight years in prison for sending $1,450 to members of al-Shabaab.
Most of the 87,000 Somalis living in the United States have arrived through U.S.-sponsored refugee resettlement programs. The largest two U.S. Somali communities, and the sites of most of the arrests in the crackdown, are in San Diego and Minnesota.