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Judge sets hearing in NSA-Somali terror case

Saturday, September 14, 2013

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A hearing for four Somali men seeking a new trial after being convicted on terrorism-related charges in a case that sprang from the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program will be held in November, a judge decided last week.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller moved the hearing from Sept. 30 to Nov. 13. He did so after federal prosecutors said they needed much more time to respond to an extensive Sept. 6 court filing from lawyers for the defendants that attacked the use of the government surveillance against their clients.

The case against the four men is the only one so far that the government has acknowledged it utilized information acquired by the National Security Agency’s extensive phone call, email and Internet search surveillance. Defense lawyers contend the secret surveillance violated the constitutional rights of their clients, meaning the government will be forced to defend its legality in court.

The four men were convicted by a federal jury in San Diego for supporting the terrorist group al-Shabab by sending about $8,500 to the organization in 2007 and 2008. The case centered on some 1,800 wiretapped phone calls between the defendants and people in Somalia. The main defendant, Basaaly Moalin, had been investigated by the FBI in 2003 for terrorist ties, but the investigation was closed when none was found.

Then, in 2007, the NSA told the FBI that a phone number from San Diego had been in contact with an “extremist” in Somalia. The FBI connected the number to Moalin and that launched the second investigation.

Defense lawyers were not told of the NSA involvement before the trial, though they asked for evidence that authorized the wiretaps. They now say the men should get a new trial and want to see the evidence that allowed the wiretaps, which they have never been given.

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