Muna Osman Jama, 36, of Reston and Hinda Osman Dhirane, 46, of Kent, Washington, were found guilty of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization after a bench trial in front of U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga in Alexandria.
“Providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations is a very serious crime,” Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “These women funneled money to a terrorist organization which was conducting a violent insurgency campaign in Somalia. National security is the top priority in this office and we will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who provide material support to terrorists.”
According to court records, the defendants would refer to the money they sent overseas as “living expenses,” and they repeatedly used code words such as “orphans” and “brothers in the mountains” to refer to al-Shabaab fighters, and “camels” to refer to trucks needed by al-Shabaab. The money transfers often were broken down into small amounts as low as $50 or $100, and the funds were intended for use by al-Shabaab insurgents operating in Somalia.
FBI officials also said the two “recruited, solicited, and advised an online group located in multiple countries as to how and where to transfer funds to this terrorist organization.”
“Today’s guilty verdicts send a message that facilitation of financial support to a designated terrorist organization equates to terrorist activity itself,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Jama and Dhirane sent money to financiers of al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya. The defendants also organized what was called a “Group of Fifteen,” which included women from Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as Minneapolis.
The “Group of Fifteen” met regularly in a private chatroom that Jama established to organize and track monthly payment of money to the “Hargeisa side,” which was used to finance al-Shabaab military operations in the Golis Mountains in northern Somalia, and the “Nairobi side,” which was used to fund two al-Shabaab safehouses, court documents stated.
One of the safehouses was used by al-Shabaab to store weapons and to prepare for attacks. The other was used to treat al-Shabaab fighters who had been wounded in battle.
A substantial part of the government’s case consisted of recorded telephone calls and other communications among the “Group of Fifteen.” These recordings demonstrated that the women had close connections with al-Shabaab leadership and were privy to non-public, inside information concerning al-Shabaab activities.
Jama and Dhirane were recorded as they laughed as the carnage at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was still taking place. Dhirane and co-conspirator were also recorded as they laughed at the Boston Marathon Bombing before it became known who committed the attack.
Jama and Dhirane each face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison when sentenced on Jan. 19, 2017.