MINNEAPOLIS - Deportation to Somalia could be "a potential death sentence" for a young woman who lied to a grand jury about raising money for men who left Minnesota to join a terrorist group in Somalia, her attorney argued in documents unsealed during her sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Prosecutors are asking for at least a two-year prison sentence for Saynab Hussein, arguing that she was involved in the conspiracy - and even warned the men to be careful in case the FBI was listening. But one of her attorneys said Hussein was merely a naive teenager who had no intent of promoting terrorism, and got caught up in something she didn't understand.
"Saynab Hussein is not a radical extremist," defense attorney Dulce Foster told the judge.
Defense attorneys also contended, in the court documents, that she should be sentenced to probation. They said a sentence of a year or longer would allow authorities to initiate deportation proceedings. Hussein is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. and left Somalia when she was a year old.
Hussein, of Nashville, Tenn., had appeared in federal court in Minneapolis on Tuesday expecting to be sentenced 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.
But her sentencing was postponed by U.S. District Judge Michael Davis. He asked attorneys on both sides to provide information about immigration and deportation laws, and set sentencing for April 29.
The defense argued that Hussein has cooperated with authorities. In documents unsealed Tuesday, her lawyer said Hussein came to the U.S. in 1999, after living in a refugee camp in Kenya, and settled in Minneapolis. The mother and part-time nursing student now lives in Tennessee and was recently married to a U.S. citizen.
"Deportation to Somalia in Ms. Hussein's case is a punishment that would far outweigh the crime committed here," her attorneys wrote. "Many view deportation there as a potential death sentence."
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.
Foster, Hussein's attorney, said her client 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.
Prosecutors said in court documents that Hussein was a "firmly-rooted member of the conspiracy," and lied about her involvement in 2009 and again in 2012.