By PETE YOST and AMY FORLITI, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The government charged 14 people Thursday with supporting "a deadly pipeline" routing money and fighters from the U.S. to the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
The cases in Minnesota, California and Alabama reflect "a very disturbing trend" of increasing support for terrorism, Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference. He credited leaders in Muslim communities in the U.S. for helping law enforcement agencies address the problem.
The nation "must prevent this kind of captivation from taking hold," the attorney general said.
Most of the people charged are U.S. citizens. Some supported the terrorist organization from the United States and others traveled to Somalia to join up with al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab is a Somali insurgent faction embracing a radical form of Islam similar to the harsh, conservative brand practiced by Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Its fighters, numbering several thousand strong, are battling Somalia's weakened government and have been branded a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaida by the U.S. and other Western countries.
One of two indictments issued in Minnesota alleges that two Somali women and others went door-to-door in Minneapolis, Rochester, Minn. and elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada to raise funds for al-Shabab's operations in Somalia. The indictment says the women raised the money under false pretenses, claiming it would go to the poor and needy, and used phony names for recipients to conceal that the money was going to al-Shabab.
The indictment alleges that the women, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, also raised money by making direct appeals to people in teleconferences "in which they and other speakers encouraged financial contributions to support violent jihad in Somalia."
During one teleconference, the indictment says, Ali told others "to forget about the other charities" and focus on "the Jihad."
The indictment says Ali and others sent the funds to al-Shabab through various hawalas, money transfer businesses that are a common source of financial transactions in the Islamic world.
Ali is accused of sending $8,608 to al-Shabab on 12 different occasions between Sept. 17 2008 through July 5, 2009.
After the FBI searched Ali's home in 2009, she allegedly contacted an al-Shabab leader in southern Somalia and said: "I was questioned by the enemy here. ... they took all my stuff and are investigating it ... do not accept calls from anyone."
Also on Thursday, a newly released State Department annual report on worldwide terrorism noted with concern that al-Qaida, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, appeared to be attracting growing numbers of radicalized Americans to its cause.
Roughly 20 men from the U.S. - all but one of Somali descent - left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join al-Shabab, officials have said.
Somali-Americans have been recruited and have taken part in suicide bombings in Somalia, and U.S. officials fear trained Somali-American terror plotters could return to the United States.
Al-Shabab last month claimed twin bombings in Uganda that killed 76 during the World Cup final, the group's first international attack. Uganda and Burundi both have peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu, and al-Shabab has vowed to continue attacks against the two countries.
Al-Shabab members began pledging allegiance to al-Qaida last year. One of its most famous members is known as Abu Mansour al-Amriki, or "the American." He appeared in a jihadist video in May 2009.
Omar Jamal, the first secretary at the Permanent Mission of the Somali Republic to the United Nations, said Thursday he was happy to hear of the indictments.
"We welcome this as a positive step toward the beginning of the defeat of al-Shabab," said Jamal, a longtime advocate for the Somali community in Minneapolis.
Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.
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