SAN DIEGO – A Somali national accused of routing money from San Diego to a terrorist organization in his native country was being held without bail Friday after government prosecutors argued he was a flight risk and danger to the community.
Basaaly Saeed Moalin and two other Somali nationals living in San Diego were among six people indicted nationwide this week by federal authorities and accused of funneling funds to al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked militia trying to overthrow the African nation's transitional government and install a harsh brand of Islam across the country.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
The arrests are the latest in a federal crackdown that appears to be targeting members of the Somali community in the United States.
Since this summer, at least 20 people, nearly all Somali nationals, have been indicted on charges of funding al-Shabab, which the U.S. says is responsible for assassinations and suicide bombings in Somalia. The arrests have been concentrated in Minnesota and San Diego, which have the two largest Somali refugee communities in the U.S.
Government prosecutors in San Diego say Moalin, Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud and Issa Doreh coordinated fundraising efforts and sent almost $9,000 to the group between 2007 and 2008. All three are from Somalia, but U.S. prosecutors said they could not confirm the men's citizenship.
According to a federal indictment, Moalin talked directly by telephone to the late Aden Hashi Ayrow, a prominent al-Shabab leader, who told Moalin he needed the money to carry out killings. The men are accused of continuing to transfer money after Ayrow died in 2008.
Moalin also provided a house in Somalia, knowing it would be used by fighters to carry out killings, according to the indictment.
Moalin's lawyer, Marc Geller, said he has seen no evidence showing his client, a local taxi driver with no prior record, was involved in any way.
Geller said he was told the case was based partly on conversations obtained by wire taps and that he would be filing a motion seeking more information.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Cole declined to comment on the case. Bail hearings for Mohamud and Doreh were postponed until Tuesday after their lawyers asked for a Somali interpreter. They will remain held without bail at least until then.
About 50 members of that community went to federal court to show their support for the three suspects.
Ali Mohamed, 21, said Moalin taught weekend classes on Islam at a local mosque and is considered a leader of the local Somali community.
"He would tell youngsters to stay away from drugs and gangs," said Mohamed, who took the class. "It's shocking to hear this case against him. I don't understand why there are people in the street who commit violence while the people who stay in the mosques and pray are being attacked."
Edgar Hopida, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in San Diego, said the arrests have put the local Somali community on edge, and his organization is making them aware of their rights.
"The Somali community is very fearful that their community is under attack," Hopida said outside the courtroom. "The Somalis who have come here are refugees from a war-torn country and the vast majority, 99 percent, are against al-Shabab."
Most of the 87,000 Somalis living in the United States have arrived through U.S.-sponsored refugee resettlement programs.
On Wednesday, an indictment was unsealed in Missouri charging three Somali nationals with helping to fund al-Shabab. Those charges came after FBI agents searched three Minneapolis money transfer businesses in April 2009. Two of the men were arrested this week in St. Louis and Minneapolis, and the third suspect is believed to be in Africa.
In August, authorities announced that 14 people in Minnesota, California and Alabama had been indicted for supporting what the U.S. government called a "deadly pipeline" routing money and fighters to al-Shabab. Seven of those people had been charged previously in Minnesota.
And last month, a Virginia man pleaded guilty to supporting al-Shabab and posting online threats to the creators of "South Park" for what he perceived as insults to the prophet Muhammad.
Somalia has not had an effective government since warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other, causing anarchy in the nation of 7 million people.