published Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Nashville woman gets probation in terrorist group financing case

MINNEAPOLIS — A former Minnesota woman who lied to a grand jury about raising money for men who left the state to join a terrorist group in Somalia was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation and ordered to perform community service.

Saynab Hussein, 24, of Nashville, showed remorse during Wednesday's sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. She pleaded guilty last August to 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.

"I wish I could go back and change it all if I could," Hussein told U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.

As part of her sentence, Davis ordered Hussein to perform 100 hours of community service each year she's on probation — educating the Somali community about the threat of terrorism and the U.S. government's role in helping stabilize the community.

"This is extremely important," Davis said of the community service. He said he took many factors into consideration for her sentence, including the fact that she was 18 at the time and likely didn't understand the consequences of her crime, and that she has provided substantial assistance to authorities.

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 for their role in what the FBI said was one of the largest efforts to recruit U.S. fighters to a foreign terrorist organization. The investigation is still active.

Hussein admitted she lied in June 2009 when she told a grand jury she didn't know anyone who raised money for the travelers; she actually helped raise money herself. Assistant U.S. Attorney LeeAnn Bell said Hussein lied again in 2012 and only came clean when authorities confronted her with evidence.

Prosecutors sought a two-year prison sentence, arguing Hussein was firmly rooted in the conspiracy, knew operational details — such as code words the men used to keep the plan secret — and even warned the men to be careful in case the FBI was listening. Prosecutors say in court documents that she helped raise money for one of the travelers.

But defense attorney Dulce Foster said Hussein was merely a naive teenager who came to the U.S. at age 10 after years in a refugee camp and was trying to fit in with a group of peers who led her in the wrong direction.

"She is not and has never been a radical or extremist," Foster said, adding that her client lied because she was scared.

Hussein has since moved to Tennessee, married and has a young son. She is pursuing a career in nursing. She told Davis she would never harm "this great nation I call home" and she asked for a second chance so she can do positive work in the Somali community.

Hussein is not a U.S. citizen and could be subject to deportation. Foster said after Wednesday's hearing that no immigration proceedings are pending.

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