A local Somali woman accused of raising money for the terrorist group al-Shabab was released from custody, pending a trial in Virginia, after more than 100 community members packed a Seattle federal courtroom Tuesday in her support.
The decision to release 44-year-old Hinda Osman Dhirane, of Kent, on her own recognizance was made over the objections of federal prosecutors. They said the court should have “grave concerns” about community safety after a three-year investigation had shown Dhirane a “leader and organizer” of a conspiracy to support the terrorist organization. Prosecutors allege she ran a “fundraising conspiracy” that funneled money to the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said the government had wiretaps of telephone conversations in which Dhirane, a U.S. citizen since 2009, is reported to have praised news reports of al-Shabab suicide attacks, including talking “gleefully” about the September 2013 assault on a mall in Kenya that killed 67 people.
Greenberg said that, two days after the Boston Marathon bombing, Dhirane was recorded talking about “a blessing here at home.”
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U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Donohue said that while he viewed Dhirane’s comments as “hateful,” her speech is not a basis on which to order her held in custody pending trial in Alexandria, Va., where a grand jury indicted Dhirane and four other Somali women last week. Two others were arrested in Reston, Va., and The Netherlands. The remaining two suspects, purportedly in Kenya and Mogadishu, remain at large, said Greenberg.
Donohue ordered her freed pending trial, but confiscated her passport and those of her four youngest children so she could not leave the country. She will be monitored using GPS tracking and will be allowed to travel only to attend court hearings.
The women each face 23 counts — one of conspiracy and 22 of providing material support to a terrorist organization. If convicted, each faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
Dhirane, a mother of six who first came to the U.S. nearly 25 years ago, was arrested at her Kent apartment July 23.
Almost all of the alleged monetary transactions involved relatively small amounts of money, a few hundred dollars or so. The total for all of the transactions was $8,350.
Her husband, Rashid Jama Barhadle, said the government is mistaken in its conspiracy theory and that Dhirane is the victim of misunderstanding and prejudice against Muslims and the Somali culture. Sending money to family and friends in that war-torn country is common, he said.
“They don’t understand,” he said. “The money is for charity. They assume it is for terrorism.”
More than 100 community members, many of them women dressed in hijabs and burqas, crowded the benches in the courtroom while Somali men stood against the walls.
Yusuf Cabdi, a community activist, said Dhirane is “extremely well-liked” in the community. Like many in the large Seattle Somali community, Cabdi said he distrusts federal law enforcement and feels Somalis have been singled out for persecution over the years.
“We are Americans,” he said. “The sooner they understand that, the better, and that we will not do anything to harm this country.”
Paula Deutsch, the federal defender representing Dhirane, said her client’s purported vocal support for al-Shabab does not mean she is a threat and that the government still needs to tie her statements to the fundraising to prove its case.
Greenberg, the assistant U.S. attorney, said the women knew they were funding al-Shabab and frequently spoke about the organization using code words to describe the fighters and the equipment they needed.
Al-Shabab has been conducting a violent insurgency in Somalia for years and has recruited a number of disaffected Somali youth from the U.S. to fight.
The U.S. designated al-Shabab a terrorist organization in 2008. In 2012 the leaders of al-Shabab announced they had merged with al-Qaida, the Osama bin Laden-founded terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Dhirane is not scheduled for any further court appearances in Seattle. She will be required to appear in federal court in Virginia as the case proceeds.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org