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Women used God's work as cover, FBI says
Last update: August 8, 2010 - 11:48 AM
They were a regular sight among the dimly lit stalls of the Somali shopping malls and the narrow hallways of the high-rise apartment towers in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood known as Little Mogadishu.
Two conservatively dressed women -- one older, one younger -- often carrying pictures of destitute grandfathers or desperate children to make their pleas more poignant.
Few questioned their work. After all, charity is an obligation, a virtue among the Muslim faithful. Even the poorest of those solicited found a way to spare a few dollars.
But it was all a ruse, the FBI said late last week as the two were indicted in a vast anti-terrorism investigation, the largest since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The women, Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan of Rochester, collected cash not for poverty-stricken grandparents, but for the violent terrorist organization Al-Shabab, the FBI says. Al-Shabab, which is tied to Al-Qaida, has trained foreign fighters and carried out suicide bombings.
How did the two women manage to conceal what the FBI said was their true intent as they sought donations in the Minnesota Somali community, the largest outside of Somalia?
Women collecting for charity, area Somalis say, would have provided the perfect cover.
In a culture where females are the most devoted keepers of causes and the most trusted couriers of cash, local Somalis say women collecting for charities is common. These women in particular -- pious, hard-working, bold -- would not have been doubted, said Abdifatah Abdinur, a Rochester community leader.
"Women are the backbone of the Somali community; they do these things," Abdinur said. "But this is the first time anyone has heard of them doing something wrong."
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