Indictment Alleges Virginia Women Supported Terrorists

Terrorism in Virginia

On July 23, 2014 federal law enforcement authorities arrested three women on charges that they provided material support to al-Shabaab.  Those three women are Muna Osman Jama of Reston, Virginia; Hinda Osman Dhirane of Kent, Washington; and Farhia Hassan of the Netherlands.  Two additional women, Fardowsa Jama Mohamed of Kenya and Barira Hassan Abdullah of Somalia, remain at large. All five women have been charged with one count of Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization (18 U.S.C.  Section 2339B) and 20 counts of Providing Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization (18 U.S.C. Sections 2339 & 2).

The superseding indictment reveals very little about the specific allegations against the five women.  It vaguely states that the women “conspired with each other and with others . . . knowingly to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization, that is, al-Shabaab.”

Without providing any further details about the particular conspiracy (e.g., means, motive, agreement, etc.), the indictment lists 26 instances of money being sent between people.  Over the course of two years those funds transfers totaled an underwhelming $4,750 that was allegedly sent to al-Shabaab.  Some of the funds transfers were as small as $50.  All but one were $400 or less.

The government’s press release, released concurrently with unsealing of the indictment, basically rehashes the vague information from the indictment.  However, it does reveal that the five women sent the money overseas with messages stating that the it was for “living expenses,” “orphans,” “camels,” and “brothers in the mountains.”  The government alleges in its press release that those were “code words” referring to al-Shabaab.

However, given the relatively tiny amount of money at issue in this case, the financial transfers seem to be more in line with supporting orphans and camels and not “materially supporting” a foreign terrorist organization.  But Section 2339B, the material support statute, does not have any minimal threshold requirement for when sending money become “material support.”

Theoretically a person can be convicted of this statute for sending even $1 to al-Shabaab and face up to 15 years in prison.  In fact, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Guidelines Manual recommends a sentence of five to seven years for such a violation.  Therefore, it’s up to federal prosecutors to exercise their discretion in charging someone.  But unfortunately recent news reports indicate the government has been exploiting the vague language of the anti-terrorism law.  Not exactly a vote of confidence for prosecutorial discretion.

This case seems to follow suit.  The dollar amounts are very low. The evidence revealed to the public does not actually demonstrate that the money was used for anything other than to support “orphans” or pay for “living expenses.”  For now the public just has to trust that the government is doing the right thing.

Court records reveal that the government intends to use secret information in this case acquired pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  Perhaps more details will emerge as additional public filings are made.  However, it is likely that no new compelling information will be made public because of the existence of FISA information and the government’s common demand that such evidence remain secret so as not to jeopardize sources or methods.  Hopefully more convincing evidence will be revealed.  Without it, this case may join the list of other misconceived and misleading anti-terrorism prosecutions conducted by the government.

Disclaimer: Blog posts should not be relied upon as legal advice and are only provided for informational purposes.  Information contained in blog posts may also become outdated with the passage of time as laws change and U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives evolve.