When Ali Yasin Ahmen, Madhi Hashi, and Mohamed Yusef appeared in the Brooklyn courthouse last December, people were confused.
They were confused because the men were Somali; two of them had Swedish citizenship and the other held citizenship in the U.K. They were apprehended in Africa, en route to Yemen.
Under U.S. law, it turns out, someone suspected of providing “material support” to a terrorist organization targeting Americans, absent any other connection, can be indicted in the U.S.–which how three members of al-Shabaab ended up in federal custody in New York.
The three men have been charged with conspiring to provide money, guns, and manpower to the militant Islamist group before it gained international attention, claiming responsibility for the recent attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.
Even in custody in New York, prosecutors worried that the three men would attempt to assist Al-Shabaab with its terror activities.
Just three days before the siege in Kenya, prosecutors filed a motion requesting the men appear in court separately to prevent them from conspiring with one another.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch enumerated her concerns in a letter dated September 18. They are all the more troubling in light of the carnage in Nairobi:
(1) the defendants are longstanding members of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist organization that has merged with al-Qaeda and has publicly stated its intent to harm the United States and its allies; (2) the defendants have extensive weapons and combat training and were formerly members of an elite al-Shabaab suicide bombing unit; (3) many of the defendants’ terrorist co-conspirators remain at large; and (4) the defendants are dangerous and influential foreign al-Shabaab fighters who have previously employed operational tradecraft and counter surveillance techniques to avoid detection by law enforcement authorities.
If convicted, Ali Yasin Ahmen, Madhi Hashi, and Mohamed Yusef face 30 years to life in prision.