Somali-born Norwegian man pleads not guilty to funding Somali terrorists

OSLO, Norway (AP) — A Somali-born Norwegian citizen pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of sending over $30,000 to top leaders of an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group at the start of the first trial under Norway's 2002 terror financing law.

Norwegian prosecutors formally indicted the 40-year-old man in Oslo District Court late last year on charges of collecting at least 200,000 kroner ($33,000) in Norway and Sweden between late 2007 and early 2008 and sending it to al-Shabab militants "in order to support terrorist activities." He cannot be named due to Norway's privacy laws.

Prosecutors said the charges included sending $500 to Faud Mohammed Qalaf in August 2007 and $10,000 to Aden Hashi Ayro in January 2008. The two were senior commanders in al-Shabab at the time. Ayro was killed in a U.S. airstrike later in 2008.

Prosecutors said that during the period of the indictment the defendant was in regular telephone contact with Qalaf, who lived in Sweden prior to taking up arms in Somalia.

Frode Sulland, a defense attorney for the man, said his client did not intend to send money to al-Shabab, but to the Islamic Courts Union, a Somali opposition group that attempted to restore order in the country after nearly two decades of lawlessness.

"He did not fully understand that some individuals (in that group) had connections to al-Shabab," Sulland told The Associated Press. "He sent money for humanitarian purposes and also to the insurgency, but he couldn't decide what it was used for. It was not illegal to send money to the insurgency."

The U.S. and several other countries, including Norway, have designated the Islamist al-Shabab a terrorist organization, and the group, which boasts veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars among its ranks, has links to al-Qaida.

The 40-year-old was the only one of three Somali men arrested in Oslo on Feb. 28, 2008, on suspicion of terror financing to be brought to trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. At the same time, Swedish police arrested three other men suspected of the same crime in Stockholm, but prosecutors there never charged them.

The trial was expected to last until Oct. 29, but is likely to reach Norway's highest court on appeal since the outcome will set a precedent for subsequent trials under the as-yet unproven law.

Norwegian prosecutors have yet to win a conviction under stricter terrorism laws passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.