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Local Somalis Doubt Fed’s Terror Support Case Against Four San Diegans


Despite scores of FBI intercepts, many local Somalis think the government's case four area San Diegans is fabricated and believe their community remains caught in the crosshairs of 9/11.

— Despite scores of FBI intercepts, many local Somalis think the government's case against four area San Diegans is fabricated and believe their community remains caught in the crosshairs of 9/11.

"There's no Somali that I know today who supports al-Shabab," said Mohamed Mohamed, a local Somali college student.

But in court papers, federal prosecutors say at least one of the accused men -- Basaaly Moalin -- had ties with top-ranking al-Shabab figures including Ayden Hashi Ayrow, the founder of al-Shabab which is trying to topple the weak central government in Somalia.

In April 2008, from Somalia, Ayrow complained over the phone to San Diego cabdriver Basaaly Moalin that he didn't have money for bullets to "shoot the enemy," according to FBI intercepts.

Moalin assured Ayrow, he would try his best to "send something."

Days later, Moalin called the imam Mohamed Mohamud at a mosque in City Heights. Again according to FBI intercepts, the two men discussed fundraising for al-Shabab. At one point, the imam told Moalin, "There are many men who are saying 'we will give contribution now.'"

Federal prosecutors say Moalin, the imam, and long-time San Diego resident Issa Doreh, raised thousands of dollars for al-Shabab. The government claims Doreh helped send the money through Shidaal Express, a local money transfer business where he worked. Prosecutors say he even waived bank fees.

"He was a helpful man," said Bashir Hassan, who is a local Somali and has known Doreh for almost two decades. "He used to teach people writing and reading. He used to help people with literacy, writing and reading."

The government has also accused a local woman Nima Ali Yusuf of providing money and personnel to al-Shabaab. Even though dozens of pages of the intercepts and other evidence against the four have been made public, local Somalis aren't buying the government's case, especially against the imam.

College student Yusuf Ali questions how the Imam, who counseled the community's youth on the importance of education and Islam, could support al-Shabaab -- a brutal group infamous for cutting off people's hands and beheadings.

"He was my mentor. He used to tell me, `stay in school, stay away from drugs, study.' He was teaching me my religion. He never taught me any violence. I was with him for 10 years. I never saw him doing that stuff."

When asked if he thought the government was lying, Ali said, "Yeah, I do."

Edgar Hopida of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says past terrorism cases have fostered that perception. He says the government has accused other American Muslims of having ties to violent Islamist groups but ends up with minor immigration violation convictions.

"So when they saw this come about with one of their local leaders, they saw it as `oh no, here we go again,'" Hopida said.

Many Somalis believe the government is specifically targeting their community.

"There's a feeling that there's an undue focus on the Somali community which is unfounded, because until now, there's really been no wrongdoing in the community," said Bob Montgomery who runs the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. "People are just struggling to rebuild their lives and all have fled the same terrorism that al-Shabab is doing now."

The imam's defense attorney Mahir Sherif says the government is criminalizing all Muslims.

"I think Islamic giving, because that's part of the religion, has given difficulties to the government because they don't know how to deal with this," Sherif said. "'How can we stop Muslims from giving money? Because we really can't attack their religion directly because that would blow up in our face.' And I think these are politically motivated cases because really the government I don't think wants Muslims to give."

Some of the government's evidence against the men includes the banking records from the now defunct money transfer business Shidaal Express. Even so, Bashir Hassan says he believes federal prosecutors need to understand that most Somalis here regularly send money to their homeland.

"People are starving," Hassan said. "People don't have food to eat. So if you have some extra bucks, you better send them so they can survive. So sending money is something routine to our community."

While that same community is watching the government's case with a skeptical eye, Hassan says there is still confidence in American justice.

"They believe the truth will prevail and these people will get back their freedom," Hassan said.

The U.S. Attorney's office declined comment.


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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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