SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Somali refugee living in San Diego pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to aiding four men who left Minnesota to join a Somali terror group, including one man who is suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing in the African nation in October.
Prosecutors have said Nima Yusuf conspired in Southern California and elsewhere to aid al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked militia trying to create an Islamic state in Somalia. As part of her plea, the 25-year-old permanent resident of the U.S. acknowledged that she agreed to help the men with money and personnel.
Over the past three years, Minnesota has been the center of a federal investigation into the recruitment of people from the U.S. to train or fight with al-Shabab in Somalia, which hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991.
Twenty people have been charged in the state in connection with the travelers and alleged terror financing. Others have been charged in St. Louis with funneling money to the terror group, and Yusuf was among four people charged in San Diego in late 2010 with helping al-Shabab.
Yusuf acknowledged to prosecutors that she knew the four men had left the United States to become fighters for al-Shabab. She said she sent $1,450 between February 2010 and November 2010, and also acknowledged lying to federal officials twice when she denied that she had sent money to Somalia.
The men — Abdisalan Hussein Ali, Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax and Abdiweili Yassin Isse — are accused of fighting for al-Shabab and are charged in a separate federal indictment in Minnesota.
Authorities have said they believe Ali and Hassan left Minneapolis for Somalia at different instances in 2008. Members of the city’s Somali community fear Ali carried out a suicide bombing on Oct. 29 in Mogadishu that Somali authorities said killed 15 people.
Al-Shabab released a recording of the alleged bomber, who the group identified as a Somali-American, Abdisalan Taqabalahullaah. One of Ali’s relatives told the AP he listened to the recording and believes it was Ali’s voice.
The FBI hasn’t confirmed the identity of the bomber’s remains. If they are confirmed to belong to Ali, it will mark the third time someone from Minnesota has been involved in a suicide attack in Somalia.
According to court testimony and documents, Faarax and Isse left Minnesota in a rental car on Oct. 5, 2009, and headed south to the U.S.-Mexico border. At the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, they told a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer that they were flying from Tijuana to Mexico City. They ultimately made their way to Somalia.
Federal officials wouldn’t say whether Yusuf had contact with Faarax and Isse while they were in the San Diego area.
Yusuf faces up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. She remains in jail without bail. Her plea is subject to final acceptance by U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz at or before sentencing on Feb. 10.
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