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
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT