Minnesota woman linked to backing terrorism in Virginia case


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota woman charged with supporting east African militant group al-Shabab is helping the federal government’s case against the ringleaders of a network of women who have sent thousands of dollars overseas to an organization the U.S. says is involved in terrorism.

Amina Mohamud Esse pleaded guilty to the charge in November 2014, according to case records that were unsealed Thursday. Allegedly part of a group of women organized online, prosecutors said Esse had sent roughly $500 overseas to a woman in Kenya, knowing the funds would eventually make their way to al-Shabab.

It adds another layer to the string of cases involving terrorism recruitment and support in Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population outside of the eastern Africa country. More than 20 young men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join militants in Syria.

The U.S. designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008. In 2012, leaders of al-Shabab and al-Qaida announced they were merging.

The U.S. District Court of Minnesota kept the proceedings in Esse’s case private, as local District Attorney Andrew Luger’s office worried that divulging the details of her charges and her cooperation with the federal government could imperil the case against some of the ringleaders of the online group, who were also arrested in 2014.

“Al-Shabaab members and associates would obviously not accept or trust the defendant if they knew she had been charged and was cooperating with the FBI,” a court filing said.

But some of the records were unsealed this week as the trial against Muna Osman Jama and Hinda Osman Dhirane is set to begin in Virginia’s U.S. District Court on July 11. Esse is listed in the government’s scheduled witnesses for the trial against the two women, according to court records.

Ben Petok, a spokesman of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota, declined to comment. Esse’s attorney did not return a voicemail seeking comment.

Jama and Dhirane were arrested in June 2014 and charged with 20 counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Jama herself allegedly sent more than $3,300 overseas meant to help al-Shabab. Three others overseas were also charged, including their alleged point of contact in Nairobi.

According to the charges, Esse sent $500 overseas between December 2011 and April 2012 — payments that were shepherded by Jama, who was then living in Virginia.

Internet chat logs between Esse and Jama submitted by the federal government ahead of the trial show the pair of women discussing how to recruit more women to contribute money to their cause. In an April 2012 conversation, Esse expressed concern to Jama about being caught.

“Sister, I told you, do not connect me to anyone till we get to know the person well. . . . Do you want me to get arrested?” Esse wrote.

In exchange for her guilty plea and providing information against the other women, Esse was put on probation and banned from traveling outside of Minnesota, according to court records. She was also required to submit for a mental health evaluation.

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Associated Press writers Amy Forliti and Jeff Baenen contributed to this story.

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