Federal authorities announced a major break Thursday in efforts to dismantle the international terrorist organization, al Shabaab. As we have previously reported, the past year has seen a substantial increase in Western youth traveling to Somalia to take up arms against African Union forces in the hopes of establishing an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa. The charging documents, naming 14 individuals, reveal the evolving threat posed by al Shabaab.
While historically confined to Somalia, al Shabaab has recently demonstrated the desire and capability of striking in its neighboring countries. Less than a month ago the organization claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Uganda during the World Cup which killed 74 people. And as the organization becomes a growing threat, the Justice Department has focused on the American support structure for al Shabaab.
The investigation announced by Attorney General Holder on Thursday, spanned at least four states and required the cooperation of local, federal, and international law enforcement officials. It culminated in the indictment of Omar Hammami in Alabama, Jehad Mostafa in California, and 12 more defendants in Minnesota (see here and here). Discussing the case, Holder said:
"these indictments and arrests—in Minnesota, Alabama, and California—shed further light on a deadly pipeline that has routed funding and fighters to al Shabaab from cities across the United States
As demonstrated by the charges unsealed today, we are seeing an increasing number of individuals – including U.S. citizens – who have become captivated by extremist ideology and have taken steps to carry out terrorist objectives, either at home or abroad."
Hammami is an American from Daphne, Alabama who joined al Shabaab in 2007, has risen through the ranks from foot soldier to lead propagandist, frequently issuing calls for Western recruits in English.
The nation-wide ring was charged, among other crimes, with providing material support to al Shabaab. Primarily, the suspects stand accused of trying to join with al Shabaab forces and with providing financial support to the designated terrorist organization.
Prosecutors allege that the defendants collected funds door-to-door and via teleconference under the guise of "humanitarian aid." Then they funneled it to jihadists in Somalia through informal hawala, or money transferring networks. In one such request for money on Feb. 10, 2009, one of the suspects allegedly told listeners to "forget about the other charities" and focus on "the jihad."