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U-T San Diego
Thursday, February 21, 2013

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The San Diego trial of four Somali immigrants charged with raising money and providing help to the terrorist group al-Shabaab largely boils down to who jurors believe is on the other end of numerous phone calls the government secretly taped five years ago.

Is it, as Assistant U.S. Attorney William Cole argued Tuesday, the voice of al-Shabaab leader and known terrorist Aden Hashi Ayrow, who was killed by a U.S. missile strike?

Or, will jurors accept the argument of defense lawyers — that the voice belongs to another man who is still alive and who testified by video deposition during the trial?

The three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller wrapped up Tuesday with daylong closing arguments by both sides. The case centers on a series of phone calls made by the four men and a handful of money transfers made from San Diego to war-torn Somalia that total about $8,500.

Federal prosecutors said the money was sent to help al-Shabaab, a group the U.S. designated as a terrorist organization in early 2008, saying it is responsible for bombings, assassinations, attacks on peacekeeping troops and thwarting attempts to establish a stable government in Somalia.

If found guilty of providing material support to a terrorist organization, the men face sentences of 15 years to life in prison.

The defendants are Basaaly Moalin, a cabdriver who prosecutors said was the main point of contact between the fundraising in San Diego and the al-Shabaab fighters; Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, the imam of a City Heights mosque; Issa Doreh, a worker at the money transfer business the defendants used; and Ahmed Nasir Taalil Mohamud, a cabdriver from Anaheim.

The transfers at issue occurred between December 2007 and August 2008. The wiretapped recordings are the core of the case, and most involve Moalin.

Cole said that the man Moalin spoke to was Ayrow, who went by various nicknames, including “Sheikalow.” That’s supported by references in some of the wiretap conversations to attacks by al-Shabaab fighters on other forces, Cole said.

He said parts of other conversations show Moalin is speaking to Ayrow. In one, he discusses the internal structure of al-Shabaab. In another, he urges support for “jihad,” or holy war.

Cole also noted that after Ayrow was killed in May 2008, he never appears on the wiretaps again.

But Joshua Dratel, a lawyer for Moalin, told jurors that no witness in the trial ever definitively identified the voice as Ayrow’s. Moreover, Dratel said, a defense witness whose testimony was taken in Djibouti before the trial because he was unable to travel to the U.S. said he is the man known as “Sheikalow.”

The witness, Hasan Guled, was seeking money so Somalis could defend themselves against various groups, including al-Shabaab, he said.

The defense attorneys also argued that the money sent overseas was for charitable purposes, and not for the terrorist group. They contended the government selectively edited portions of the wiretapped conversations to make them sound more sinister than they were.


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