Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Al-Shabaab backed by money from U.S.

By Peter Bergen and David Sterman
September 29, 2013 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Images released by the Kenyan Presidential Press Service on Thursday, September 26, show scenes of destruction in the parking deck outside the Westgate mall after the four-day siege by militants. Images released by the Kenyan Presidential Press Service on Thursday, September 26, show scenes of destruction in the parking deck outside the Westgate mall after the four-day siege by militants.
HIDE CAPTION
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
Kenyan mall's destroyed parking deck
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bergen: Al-Shabaab bolstered not only by U.S. recruits but also by U.S. financial backers
  • He says the terrorist group has received illegal funding from sympathizers in the U.S.
  • U.S. authorities have succeeded in prosecuting Al-Shabaab supporters, Bergen says

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." David Sterman is a graduate student at Georgetown University's Security Studies Program.

(CNN) -- After the attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, substantial attention was given to the some 40 Americans who have traveled to fight for Al-Shabaab in Somalia during the past several years.

But much less attention has focused on Al-Shabaab's supporters in the United States who have helped to fund the terrorist group. Those supporters have funneled tens of thousands of dollars via money transfer businesses to the terrorist organization and have often maintained direct contact with Al-Shabaab leaders and fighters in Somalia.

After the 9/11 attacks, when it became clear to investigators that al Qaeda's deadly assaults on New York and Washington had cost as much as $500,000 to mount, the U.S. government became far more aggressive about trying to block funds going to terrorist organizations.

Al-Shabaab breaks new ground with complex attack

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

Part of that process involved a determined effort to sort through which groups were terrorist organizations. On 9/11 there were only 26 terrorist groups on the State Department's list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Today there are 51, among them Al-Shabaab, which was designated in March 2008.

The result of that designation was that it was now illegal for a person in the United States to knowingly provide Al-Shabaab with money, training, expertise, false documentation, communications equipment, weapons or explosives, or to join the group.

Opinion: Al-Shabaab is fighting for its survival

On that basis, a number of cases have emerged:

• In Rochester, Minnesota, two women from Somalia who had become naturalized U.S. citizens helped organize funding for Al-Shabaab. Hawo Hassan, a 64-year-old adult day care worker, and Amina Farah Ali, 35, set up a dedicated teleconference line to raise funds for Al-Shabaab.

How Al-Shabaab recruits in the U.S.
On GPS: Somali president on Al-Shabaab
Bergen: Unlikely women were attackers

Hundreds of interested individuals called in to these teleconferences, and after each one Hassan and Ali recorded pledges of funds from the callers. After a teleconference on October 26, 2008, the two women received pledges from 21 individuals totaling $2,100 in funds for Al-Shabaab.

These teleconferences often featured Al-Shabaab figures. In one teleconference, an Al-Shabaab female leader exhorted the listening audience to send funds. In another, Mahad Karate, the head of Al-Shabaab's intelligence wing, told the members of the listening audience that jihad "is waged financially" and that their help was needed.

The two female Al-Shabaab fund-raisers also went door to door in Minnesota to raise contributions, often under false pretenses claiming contributions were for war orphans in Somalia. During a phone call with her Al-Shabaab financial contact, Ali stated, "I tell the people to collect money in the name of the poor. Nobody is aware of the money I send to you."

Prosecutors said it was clear from the phone conversations that they monitored that the two women knew that they were raising money for Al-Shabaab, a group that had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Both women were convicted of providing funds to Al-Shabaab and were sentenced to lengthy prison terms this year.

Opinion: Al-Shabaab's American allies

• Similarly, Ahmed Hussein Mahamud, a 27-year-old man, raised money from the Minnesota Somali community under the pretense that the money was going to a local mosque or to help orphans in Somalia. Instead he transferred the funds to fellow conspirators who had traveled from Minnesota to fight in Somalia to help them buy weapons. He and his co-conspirators transferred $1,500 to help Al-Shabaab. Mahamud pleaded guilty last year.

• Nima Ali Yusuf, a 25-year-old San Diego woman, who pleaded guilty in December 2011 to sending $1,450 to help fund Al-Shabaab, was in telephone contact with some of the Somali-American men fighting in Somalia for Al-Shabaab.

• In 2007, Aden Hashi Ayrow, a Al-Shabaab leader, contacted Basaaly Saeed Moalin, a cabdriver in San Diego, asking him to fund his group. In January 2008, Ayrow told Moalin that he needed to know how much money was being sent monthly to his group, even if it was only $100, because even relatively small amounts of money could make a big difference in Somalia, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. To keep an Al-Shabaab foot soldier in the field only cost a dollar a day.

At Ayrow's request, Moalin organized other members of the Somali-American community to help provide funding. Moalin recruited three others members of the Somali-American community and together they sent $8,500 to Al-Shabaab between 2007 and 2008. All four were later convicted of providing support to Al-Shabaab.

• Another Al-Shabaab supporter in St Louis, cabdriver Mohamud Abdi Yusuf, was part of a group of men that sent $21,000 to Kenya and Somalia for Al-Shabaab. Yusuf pleaded guilty to giving support to the terrorist group.

Opinion: Al-Shabaab 'Lord of the Flies' with guns

Since Al-Shabaab was designated as a terrorist organization, the U.S. Justice Department has mounted "Operation Rhino" to combat Al-Shabaab's support network in the States and has convicted 12 individuals for providing funds to Al-Shabaab, according to a count by the New America Foundation.

This seems to have had a real deterrent effect. As a result of the publicity these cases have had in the Somali-American community, indictments for Al-Shabaab fund-raising have slowed considerably. And the last time a Somali-American was indicted for raising money for Al-Shabaab was 2011.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT