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Woman in Somali militant funding trial held in contempt

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - One of two Minnesota women facing charges of raising money for the al Qaeda-affiliated Somali group al-Shabaab was cited for criminal contempt on Monday after refusing to stand as a federal judge entered the courtroom.

Amina Farah Ali, who became a U.S. citizen in 2004 and lived in Rochester, Minnesota, cited religious grounds for refusing to stand when Chief Judge Michael Davis entered the courtroom for the start of jury selection in her trial.

In all, Davis counted 10 instances of contempt after Ali refused to stand as court was called to order or recessed, and sentenced her to serve five days for each, consecutively, after the trial concludes.

Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, who became a U.S. citizen in 2008, both face multiple federal charges over accusations of raising more than $8,600 for al-Shabaab rebels from September 2008 to July 2009.

The United States designated al-Shabaab, which has been waging a four-year insurgency against Somalia's Western-backed government troops and African Union peacekeepers, a terrorist group in February 2008.

Ali and Hassan were accused of communicating with al-Shabaab individuals in Somalia and in turn going door-to-door in Somali communities in Rochester, Minneapolis and elsewhere to raise money and holding teleconferences to solicit support.

The defendants denied raising money for the group, saying the funds were intended for the poor and needy. The indictment accuses Ali of saying on two conference calls that the priority was support for the Mujahadin or Jihad, not the needy.

Ali was ordered removed from the courtroom, temporarily delaying the start of jury selection, and later returned to the courtroom. Ali, who had been free on bail, was ordered held on the contempt charge.

Davis had warned in a written order on September 30 that individuals could face sanctions if they failed to adhere to rules guiding courtroom decorum after Ali previously failed to stand.

Last week, Davis also ruled prosecutors could offer evidence that in the period before the indictment Ali had sent money to 20 men so they could travel to Somalia.

Prosecutors also intend to present evidence Ali sent money to the operator of a safe-house in Somalia where men from Minnesota and elsewhere lived while fighting for al-Shabaab, and assisted in and coordinated funding for seven men to travel to Somalia in September 2008, according to court documents.

Some 18 people have been charged in Minnesota in an investigation into efforts to recruit Americans to train or fight in Somalia. At least two Minnesota men are thought to have died in Somalia fighting for al-Shabaab.

Jury selection was scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)

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