San Diego imam and three cohorts laundered money, financed terror
Two of the four financiers: Imam Mohamed Mohamud (left) and Issa Doreh (right)
Many readers are probably already aware of the conviction as it has received fairly extensive print news coverage. The best report on the Feb. 22 verdicts comes from the FBI itself:
San Diego Jury Convicts Four Somali Immigrants of Providing Support to Foreign Terrorists
Defendants Sent Money to al Shabaab in Somalia
SAN DIEGO, CA—A federal jury today convicted four Somali immigrants, including a popular imam at a City Heights mosque, of conspiring to provide material support to the terrorist group al Shabaab.
The jury found that the four men—Basaaly Saeed Moalin, a cabdriver in San Diego; Issa Doreh, a worker at a money transmitting business that was the conduit for moving the funds; Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, the imam at a mosque frequented by the city’s immigrant Somali community; and Ahmed Nasiri Taalil Mohamud, a cabdriver from Anaheim—conspired to raise money for the foreign terrorist organization and send it back to Somalia.
During the three-week trial, the United States presented evidence that Moalin, Mohamud, Doreh, and Nasir conspired to provide money to al Shabaab, a violent and brutal militia group in Somalia that engages in suicide bombings, targets civilians for assassination, and uses improvised explosive devices. In February 2008, the U.S. Department of State formally designated al Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization.
At trial, the jury listened to dozens of the defendants’ intercepted telephone conversations, including many conversations between defendant Moalin and Aden Hashi Ayrow, one of al Shabaab’s most prominent leaders who was subsequently killed in a missile strike on May 1, 2008. In those calls, Ayrow implored Moalin to send money to al Shabaab, telling Moalin that it was “time to finance the Jihad.” Ayrow told Moalin, “You are running late with the stuff. Send some and something will happen.” In the calls played for the jury, Ayrow repeatedly asked Moalin to reach out to defendant Mohamud—the imam—to obtain funds for al Shabaab.
According to the evidence presented at trial, the defendants conspired to transfer the funds from San Diego to Somalia through the Shidaal Express, a now-defunct money transmitting business in San Diego.
The United States also presented a recorded telephone conversation in which defendant Moalin gave the terrorists in Somalia permission to use his house in Mogadishu, Somalia, telling Ayrow that “after you bury your stuff deep in the ground, you would, then, plant the trees on top.” Prosecutors argued at trial that Moalin was offering a place to hide weapons…
Basaaly Moalin, the most malicious and vocal of member of the conspiracy, could be sentenced to a maximum of 80 years in prison, with his co-defendants facing shorter terms.
The disturbing (but frankly unsurprising) involvement of an imam in the conspiracy is not the only important takeaway from this trial.
The critical lesson illustrated by this case is that remittances to Somalia are fraught with risk; ordinary Somali customers undoubtedly used the services of Shidaal Express prior to its closure. Even customers who had no intention of funding terrorism supplemented Shidaal’s business and indirectly aided al-Shabaab.
Shidaal Express in San Diego
This is why banks have to make very careful decisions about money services businesses (MSBs) that they may take on as commercial clients. Banks must evaluate whether the risk of supporting terrorism is too high to continue doing business with a particular individual or MSB.
Why on earth would anybody still criticize banks in Minnesota for ceasing to providing money transfer services to Somalia? The evidence has become far too clear that Somali remittances bear an unacceptable risk of being siphoned off for terrorist purposes.
IPT has previously reported on the details of the money transfers in the San Diego conspiracy, which further illustrate the fundamental riskiness of the Somali remittance business:
The men used hawalas—both registered and unregistered—to move money from the United States to African countries. Two of the hawalas identified—Shidaal Express, Inc.,and North American Money Transfer, Inc.—have a history of money laundering and terror-financing violations, public records show.
Take, for example, North American Money Transfer (NAMT) which is incorporated in Georgia, but has branches in Missouri and elsewhere throughout the United States. In August 2009, the Justice Department charged the company with a series of financial crimes, including operating as an unlicensed money transmitting business in the State of Michigan. According to the indictment, between Jan. 3, 2008 and April 15, 2009, “NAMT wire transferred approximately $12,820,000 from the United States to Africa Horn in the United Arab Emirates, for distribution to the intended recipients in Somalia and other countries located in the Horn of Africa.”
Over a period of 10 months, the defendants in the cases announced Wednesday raised and transferred approximately $26,000 from various locations within the United States to Somalia. Separating the payments into 20 separate transactions, each of them were structured to evade the $3,000 limit that would have required the hawala to verify a name and address of the sender through a photo identification.