Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that 14 people are being charged with providing support for the Somalian terrorist group al-Shabab.
Holder said the charges reflect a disturbing trend that leaders in Muslim communities in the United States are helping law enforcement agencies to address.
The charges against suspects in Minnesota, California and Alabama include providing support for the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia, two U.S. officials said Thursday. Most of the people are U.S. citizens, with some supporting the terrorist organization from the United States and others traveling to Somalia to do so.
Al-Shabab is a Somali insurgent faction that embraced a radical form of Islam similar to the harsh, conservative brand practiced by Afghanistan's Taliban regime. Its fighters, numbering several thousand strong, have been battling Somalia's weakened government and have been branded a terrorist group by the U.S. and other Western countries.
The federal government designated al-Shabab a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008, and said it has ties to al-Qaida.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in the investigation which is culminating in several indictments.
Roughly 20 men — all but one of Somali descent — left Minnesota from December 2007 through October 2009 to join al-Shabab, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.
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.
The charges in Minnesota are the latest development in an inquiry in that state which has been under way for some time.
Two indictments unsealed in Minnesota on Thursday added five new names to a list of people charged in the investigation in that state, bringing the total charged in the state to 19. Two were women from the Rochester, Minn., area accused of raising money for al-Shabab.
The Minneapolis indictment said two men, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, raised money for al-Shabab both by open appeals on teleconferences and by pretending in other cases that the money was for the poor and needy.
The indictment cited 12 money transfers to al-Shabaab in 2008 and 2009 totaling $8,608. The charges included providing material support to a terrorist group and lying to authorities.
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.
In another case unrelated to Thursday's developments, a 26-year-old Chicago man who told an FBI informant that he didn't expect to reach the age of 30 was charged with plotting to go to Somalia to become a suicide bomber for al-Qaida and al-Shabab.
During a brief hearing Wednesday, prosecutors told a judge that the Chicago man, Shaker Masri, attempted to provide support through the use of a weapon of mass destruction outside the United States.
Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.
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