MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A young woman who lied to a grand jury about raising money for men who left Minnesota to join a terrorist group in Somalia was actually involved in the conspiracy herself — and warned the men to be careful in case the FBI was listening, prosecutors said during her sentencing hearing Tuesday.
But Saynab Hussein's attorney said her client was merely a naive teenager who had no intent of promoting terrorism, but got caught up in something she didn't understand.
"Saynab Hussein is not a radical extremist," defense attorney Dulce Foster said.
Hussein, of Nashville, Tenn., appeared in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday for sentencing on one count of perjury in connection with the government's long-running investigation into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab, a terrorist group with links to al-Qaida.
However, her sentencing was postponed by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis after several questions were raised, including about deportation. Prosecutors are requesting at least two years in prison, but defense attorneys said any sentence longer than a year would allow deportation proceedings. Hussein, a mother and part-time nursing student, is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and left Somalia when she was a year old.
"Deportation to Somalia in Ms. Hussein's case is a punishment that would far outweigh the crime committed here," her attorneys wrote in documents unsealed Tuesday. "Many view deportation there as a potential death sentence."
The judge asked attorneys on both sides to provide him with information about immigration and deportation laws, and scheduled a new sentencing hearing for April.
Since late 2007, at least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join al-Shabab. Some of the men have died, some remain at large, and others were among those prosecuted in what the FBI said was one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters to a foreign terrorist organization.
Hussein admitted she lied in June 2009, when she told a grand jury she didn't know anyone who raised money for the travelers, when she actually helped raise money herself.
Hussein's attorney, Dulce Foster, said Hussein didn't know the men were carrying out violent attacks on innocent people, and that she lied "simply because she was terrified."
Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell said evidence shows Hussein was more involved, including emails between Hussein and some of the men showing she knew code words they used to keep the conspiracy secret. Bell said Hussein helped raise $1,300 for one man, gave phone numbers to others, and warned individuals in Somalia "to be careful of who they involved because the FBI might be listening."
Bell said Hussein lied about her involvement in 2009, and again 2012.
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