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Minn. woman charged with aiding terrorists refuses to rise for judge

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Amina Farah Ali
Amina Farah Ali of Rochester, is seen outside the federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul in this file photo taken on Monday, August 9, 2010.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

A woman whose trial opened Monday on charges of supporting a Somali terrorist group refused to rise for the judge, prompting her to be ejected from her own trial.

Amina Farah Ali sat quietly as Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis entered the room. Her attorney, Daniel Scott, said she was interpreting a line of the Koran that said she will "not rise for a person when she does not rise for the prophet."

After Davis confirmed with Ali's attorney that she was instructed to rise for the judge, he ordered her to be taken into custody by U.S. Marshals. 

A marshal handcuffed Ali, who was dressed in a black head-to-toe hijab, and escorted her out of the room. 

After about 45 minutes, Ali was called back into the courtroom and Davis asked her if she would stand as ordered.

"I'll not stand for anyone except for Allah," Ali responded.

Davis said Ali could stay for jury selection but will have to watch the trial from a monitor in a separate room in future proceedings if she continues to refuse to stand when instructed to do so. Her attorney will be allowed to take breaks to consult with her.

"No one is asking her to give up her religion," Davis said. "She does not have a First Amendment Right not to stand."

Davis added that he needed to maintain the decorum of the courtroom.

Hawo Mohamed Hassan
Hawo Mohamed Hassan, left, of Rochester, Minn., talks with reporters as she leaves the U.S. District Court after appearing at a hearing in St Paul, Minn., Thursday, August 5, 2010. ()
AP Photo/Craig Lassig

"It's disruptive and causes great harm to the administration of justice if you have not followed my basic rules," he said.

Scott, Ali's attorney, said there are different interpretations of the line in the Koran that Ali cited in not standing. The other defendant in the case, Hawo Mohamed Hassan, did rise for the judge. 

Hassan's attorney had asked Davis to grant his client a separate trial, arguing that the evidence disproportionately focuses on Ali's alleged activities. But Davis denied the request.

The trial began Monday with jury selection, after Ali and Hassan were charged with raising money in the Somali-American community to aid al-Shabab, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. Its members embrace a radical form of Islam similar to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and seek to overthrow the government in Somalia.

The indictment alleges that the women 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." 

According to court filings, the government plans to show evidence that the two women transferred money to terrorists, and that Ali helped coordinate and pay for the travels of seven men who wanted to join the jihad in Somalia in September 2008.

It's not clear from the court documents whether those men included the Minnesotans who left for Somalia to train with al-Shabab. 

The women say they're not guilty. In a 2009 interview with MPR, Amina Ali said she and her friend collected used clothing and sent it back to Somalia.

"I explained to them that the reason I was doing this was because there's a civil war happening in my country," said Ali. "There were a lot of people displaced from their own homes, and going to refugee camps all over the continent of Africa, including outside of Mogadishu. So, my instincts told me it was my duty to help out the Somali poor people who left everything behind."