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Published April 14, 2011, 06:58 PM

MN Women Face Oct. 3 Trial on Terror Charge

While investigating whether two Rochester women were funneling money to a terror group in Somalia, FBI agents sifted through the trash of an apartment complex roughly 90 times, intercepted and recorded 30,000 phone calls and interviewed suspects more than once.

By: Amy Forliti, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — While investigating whether two Rochester women were funneling money to a terror group in Somalia, FBI agents sifted through the trash of an apartment complex roughly 90 times, intercepted and recorded 30,000 phone calls and interviewed suspects more than once.

Details revealed in court Thursday hint at the scope and complexity of the investigation into Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, two women who prosecutors say were part of a "deadly pipeline" routing money and fighters from the U.S. to al-Shabab.

Ali, 34, and Hassan, 60, will face trial Oct. 3 on multiple charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors say they went door-to-door to collect funds and held teleconferences to solicit donations. In one of those calls, prosecutors say, Ali told others to "forget about the other charities" and focus on "the Jihad."

The women have said they are innocent and were collecting money and clothing for refugees in Somalia. Their attorneys have filed numerous requests in the case: asking that the indictment be dismissed, that the women be tried separately and that some statements Ali made to authorities be left out of trial.

Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis said Thursday he would take these requests and others under advisement.

"It's complex," he said of the case.

Thursday's hearing focused on some defense requests in detail. Dan Scott, Ali's attorney, is asking that evidence collected from a trash bin at Ali's apartment be kept out of trial, saying in a court filing that the FBI "seized items without a warrant under the guise that they were only searching property that had already been abandoned."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen argued the trash was indeed abandoned, and a warrantless search was allowed.

One witness gave details about the trash searches. FBI Special Agent Kevin McGrane testified that in October 2008, authorities noted numerous trash bins at Ali's apartment complex, including one across the street from Ali's own apartment.

"We presumed that would be the one that she'd be dumping her trash into, and we confirmed that with apartment management," McGrane testified. Then, authorities went to the trash collection company.

On the days the FBI wanted to search Ali's trash, agents had the trash collectors reconfigure their route to collect trash from the other bins in the complex first. The trash collectors then compacted the trash in the truck before collecting Ali's bin — so its contents ended up on top and separate from other trash, McGrane testified.

Then, FBI agents met the truck driver at another location, and authorities sifted through the trash to find bags from Ali's apartment.

McGrane said authorities did this 80 to 90 times during the course of the investigation.

Authorities also interviewed Ali three times, including twice before her arrest. Scott is trying to get statements she made in those interviews thrown out, but Paulsen said the interviews were voluntary and Ali wasn't in custody, so they should be permitted.

During the hearing, attorneys also revealed that the government recorded 30,000 phone calls in this case. Paulsen said about half of those were under 30 seconds long and weren't analyzed in depth.

The calls are all in Somali. About 130 calls have been deemed most relevant to the case, while another 845 have been deemed "second tier." On Thursday, the government also gave audio recordings of 1,400 more calls to the defense, which Paulsen said could be arguably relevant.

Kelly said the recordings include teleconferences with multiple people as well as one-on-one conversations.

Davis still has to rule on whether those wire taps were conducted legally, and whether the calls can be used as evidence.

For over two years, Minneapolis has been the center of a federal investigation into the travels of roughly 20 Somali men who left Minnesota to possibly fight with al-Shabab. A total of 19 people have been charged in Minnesota in connection with the investigations into the travelers and terror financing.

Other people in San Diego and St. Louis have also been charged with funneling money to al-Shabab. In the St. Louis case, prosecutors allege the money was sent through a Minneapolis wire-transfer business — a popular method for Somalis to send money back to their loved ones back home, where roughly 2 million people are displaced.

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