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Defense Produces Own Wiretap Translation In Somali Trial

Sanjay Bhandari, a San Diego attorney and former federal prosecutor, and Abdi Mohamoud, executive director of the Horn of Africa Foundation, talk to KPBS about four local Somali men accused of helping the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab.

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Four men, including a well-respected Muslim cleric, are on trial in a San Diego federal courtroom. They are accused of helping the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab.

Secretly recorded wiretaps form the basis of the government’s case against the four men.

San Diego has one of the largest populations of Somali refugees in the United States. Somalia has been torn by violence for decades and the rebel group al-Shabab was named as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2008.

The defendants are three people who lived in San Diego and one from Orange County, said Sanjay Bhandari, a San Diego attorney and former federal prosecutor. Two were cab drivers, and one was an Imam of a local mosque that was frequented by the Somali community.

"The charges center on late December of 2007 through about August of 2008," Bhandari said. "The indictment alleges that the defendants participated in a conspiracy to support a foreign terrorist organization, al-Shabab."

Bhandari pointed out some of the charges occurred before al-Shabab was a designated terrorist organization.

"That's part of the defense, that some of the defendants have pointed out, some of their calls attributable to certain defendants focus on a time before the designation," he said. "There are really very few calls afterwards."

The men are accused of sending money to the group. Providing material support to a terrorist organization is a federal crime. And the penalties are severe. In December, a young San Diego woman pleaded guilty to sending about $1,450 to al-Shabab, and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Abdi Mohamoud, executive director of the Horn of Africa Foundation, said many people in the local Somali community are following the trial closely.

"Many of them are newly-arrived families, many of them are relatives of some of the defendants, and so they have yet to have a grip on the legal system in the United States and so they are very anxious," he said. "Probably as many people as possible show up to the court hearings in the morning to see how the process works and you know, they are very anxious and really don't know what to make of it."

News of terrorist groups operating in North Africa is growing. It's a matter of deep importance to find out if there are ties between those groups and people living in the United States.

Claire Trageser contributed to this report.


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