Closing arguments under way in Minn. terror trial

By AMY FORLITI | October 20, 2011 | 1:50 PM EDT

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal prosecutor told jurors Monday that two Minnesota women conspired to funnel money to a terror group in Somalia even though they knew it was illegal, while a defense attorney said at least one of the women was giving money before the U.S. ever declared al-Shabab a terrorist organization.

Closing arguments began Monday in the trial of Amina Farah Ali, 35, and Hawo Mohamed Hassan, 64, two U.S. citizens of Somali descent who prosecutors accuse of being part of a "deadly pipeline" that routed money and fighters from the U.S. to Somalia.

Ali's attorney, Dan Scott, told jurors the evidence showed his client was giving money to fighters in Somalia and their families before the U.S. deemed al-Shabab a terror group with ties to al-Qaida in February 2008.

Both women, of Rochester, are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali also faces 12 counts of providing such support for allegedly sending more than $8,600 to the group from September 2008 through July 2009. Hassan, whose attorney was to give closing arguments Monday afternoon, faces three counts of lying to the FBI.

Each terrorism count carries a 15-year maximum prison sentence, while lying to the FBI carries an eight year maximum.

Hundreds of hours of secretly recorded phone calls have been the government's key evidence against Ali and Hassan, who were among 20 people charged in Minnesota's long-running federal investigations into recruiting and financing for al-Shabab. Investigators believe at least 21 men left Minnesota — home to the country's largest Somali community — to join al-Shabab.

Ali and Hassan maintain their innocence and say they were collecting money and clothing for refugees. But prosecutors allege the women went door-to-door and held teleconferences to solicit donations for the fighters. In one of those recorded calls, investigators allege, Ali said to "forget about the other charities" and focus on "the jihad." In others, both women speak with the leader of a militia allied with al-Shabab, and Ali gets updates on the fighting.

Dozens of members of the area's Somali community have attended the trial each day.