Three plead guilty to helping Somali terrorist group

A Somali and two Swedish citizens pleaded guilty in a New York court Tuesday to conspiring to provide support to al-Shabaab, the Somali-based organization linked to al Qaeda.

According to the Justice Department’s charges, 25-year-old Somali Madhi Hashi and Swedish citizens Ali Yasin Ahmed, 30, and Mohamed Yusuf, 32, served as members of the group from 2008 to 2012 and attempted to recruit others to join their cause. All three men are originally from Somalia.

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The guilty pleas Tuesday came hours before the court was reportedly scheduled to begin jury selection.

Yusuf and Ahmed joined al-Shabaab in its fight against African Union forces, the Justice Department said. Yusuf was also allegedly featured in an al-Shabaab propaganda video called “Inspire the Believers,” which the government had sought to prove by using advanced voice recognition software, according to the New York Daily News. Had the case proceeded to a trial, it would have been the first time the evidence was ever used in a U.S. federal court. 

Hashi, meanwhile, was alleged to be a “close associate” of an American jihadi who was killed by al-Shabaab in 2013, Omar Hammami, and have ties to an al-Shabaab suicide bomber.

“The defendants were committed supporters of al-Shabaab, a violent terrorist organization that has demonstrated its capabilities and motives in numerous terrorist attacks overseas, and has publicly called for attacks against the United States,” acting U.S. Attorney Kelly Currie said in a statement announcing the convictions. “We will use every tool at our disposal to combat terrorist groups, deter terrorist activity, and incapacitate individual terrorists around the world.”

“Today’s convictions demonstrate that criminal prosecution is an effective tool in our efforts to combat international terrorism,” Currie added.

The three were arrested together while leaving Somalia on their way to Yemen in August 2012. They were handed over to the FBI’s custody and brought to New York for prosecution later that year.

Each of the them now faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and deportation from the U.S. Had the case proceeded to a trial and the three convicted on all counts, they could have been faced with mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years and maximum terms of life in prison.