Excerpts from a long article that buries the terror part deep within. via Terror Starts Small – St. Louis Magazine – February 2013 – St. Louis, Missouri.
On January 1, 2008—Yusuf’s 28th birthday—placid St. Louis couldn’t have seemed more remote. The day was cold and gray—weather he’d never seen growing up in the white light of Somalia, one of the hottest countries on earth. A skinny, contradictory strip along the Horn of Africa, Somalia is edged by ocean, yet parched for water. Instead of isolated farm families who stay put for 100 years, there are nomads who herd camels with their clansmen. Poverty is commonplace, but so are the gifts of kings: Myrrh grows on trees, and women burn frankincense after meals to perfume the air.
Yusuf rarely talked to Americans about his homeland. His friends here would have been jolted to hear his voice that day, as he talked to a Somali friend in San Diego about sending money to the “Kuni-Kuni children.” (The phrase was code for al-Shabaab, as were “the skull-breakers,” “the teeth grinders,” “the runts,” “the general cause,” and “the common purpose.”) Two weeks later, the friend put Yusuf in charge of fundraising efforts in Ohio, California, and Missouri.
In Yusuf’s indictment, this San Diego friend is not named. He is referred to only as UCC1 (unindicted co-conspirator No. 1). Others are mentioned only by initials, including I.D. and M.K. But an indictment filed a day later in San Diego charged a Somali taxi driver named Basaaly Saeed Moalin—along with a man named Issa Doreh and an imam sometimes known as Mohamed Khadar—with conspiring to support, and providing material support for, al-Shabaab.
According to the San Diego indictment, on January 20, 2008, Moalin spoke with Aden Hashi Ayrow, then commander of al-Shabaab. The following day, Yusuf’s San Diego friend said he’d spoken to “the gentleman”—code for Ayrow.
The U.S. believed Ayrow had sheltered al-Qaida members wanted for the 1998 bombings of American embassies, and he was now known as al-Qaida’s arm in Somalia. He’d also been accused of desecrating an Italian graveyard, killing a BBC journalist, and planning suicide attacks across Somalia. He had famously eluded one attempt after another to capture or kill him.
Yusuf warned his San Diego friend they should conceal support for al-Shabaab, “to avoid having the enemy rejoice.” In the (supposed) safety of their conversations, they could strategize.
Yusuf was about to become part of work that held deep meaning for him, that flowed out of his strong convictions, and that reconnected him with his clansmen. Supporting al-Shabaab would bring him close to the country he’d been forced to leave at 11. And it would quench his hatred—and no doubt, his dead parents’ hatred—of the Ethiopians who’d invaded time and again.
Five weeks after Yusuf took charge of fundraising in three states, the U.S. designated al-Shabaab a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Announced in a State Department press release, the news didn’t exactly make headlines. Did Yusuf even know? In the end, it wouldn’t matter. “You either have to know that the organization is on the list or you have to know that the organization is involved in acts of terror,” explains Richard Callahan, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. Al-Shabaab’s track record of targeted assassinations, suicide bombings, kidnappings, use of land mines and automatic weapons, and threats slipped under the door at night—all intended to subvert Somalia’s transitional government—qualified as terrorism. And the wiretaps would show that Yusuf knew of the group’s violence and its intent.
By spring, he and his San Diego friend were talking about creating a team of “elites” to help fund al-Shabaab. Moalin, according to the San Diego indictment, had already begun sending money to Somalia—and on April 12, Ayrow told him, “It is the time to finance the jihad.”
Throughout May, Yusuf talked often with a man in Minneapolis, Abdi Mahdi Hussein, about ways to send $5,000 anonymously to Somalia. Hussein worked for a hawala called Qaran Financial Express. People use hawalas (the word means “trust”) to send money to Somalia, which hasn’t had a national bank since 1991. Loved ones can go to a hawala; identify themselves by name, clan, and relatives; and claim the money. There’s little official record-keeping, making this an ideal way to fund terrorism—although Callahan points out that “to some degree, transfers of money can be traced. Also, you have people coming forward.”
Since 9/11, the U.S. has cracked down on the money flow, so Yusuf and Hussein were strategizing: The money would have to be broken into small transfers, each less than $3,000, with various names used for senders and recipients.
On May 21, Hussein confirmed three transactions in code—“25 shillings” ($2,500), “17 sweaters” ($1,700), and “eight shirts” ($800). “Add the sum of the numbers,” he told Yusuf, “and let the work begin.”
The next day, Yusuf traveled to Minneapolis and met Hussein and another man at Karmel Square, an old warehouse rehabbed into a souk, bright with Somali fabrics and gift shops. There was a food court, a barbershop, a pool hall—and Qaran Financial Express.
More false-name transactions followed that meeting, as did transactions in the name of a Somali woman in Tennessee. Yusuf had called her and begged permission to use her name for “the common purpose.” He told her that if anyone asked, she should say that Diriye was her son.
On Memorial Day weekend 2008, Yusuf talked to his San Diego friend—and it was this conversation that began Yusuf’s undoing. The U.S. government lets most of its wiretapped investigations go unprosecuted, because their main purpose is national security, and because taking them to trial is extraordinarily difficult. But this case was different: Yusuf was about to give them not only evidence that he was funding terrorists, but also evidence that he knew exactly what use those terrorists would make of his money.
Much more at link above and a verdict should be coming soon as Somali terrorism trial gets under way.
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