ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A Dutch woman was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for donating several hundred dollars to a group that supported the militant group al-Shabab in Somalia.
The sentenced imposed on Farhia Hassan, 38, was far less than the 8-year sentence sought by prosecutors.
She was convicted earlier this year by a jury at U.S. District Court in Alexandria of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Prosecutors said she was one of about 15 women who gathered in an online chatroom and regularly committed small amounts of money to support al-Shabab militants in Somalia and Kenya. In all, prosecutors say she donated about $300 over a three-year period, though they admitted difficulty tracking payments.
Hassan, a Somali native and mother of six, was granted asylum in the Netherlands as a teenager and settled in the city of Terneuzen. She was initially charged in 2014, but fought extradition for seven years before she was brought to the U.S. to face trial.
Two leaders of the group have already been convicted and sentenced to terms of 12 and 11 years, respectively.
Hassan’s lawyers argued she never should have been charged in the first place. They said it was overreach for the U.S. to charge a Dutch woman for supporting Somali militants when she had no connection whatsoever to the U.S.
While al-Shabab has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., it carried no such designation in the Netherlands or the European Union at the time the group was active, from 2011 to 2014.
The defense lawyers, Jessica Carmichael and Yancey Ellis, also said the minimal contributions attributed to their client warranted only a minimal sentence. They argued for a sentence of time served, about nine months.
“Ms. Hassan has been punished enough,” they wrote in sentencing papers.
Prosecutors, though, said $300 can go a long way. In court papers, they said the money could be used in Somalia to pay an al-Shabab fighter’s monthly wages or buy an AK-47 military rifle or a camel.
At Monday’s hearing, Hassan said through a Somali interpreter that she is not an al-Shabab supporter but was donating money to help the Somali people.
Prosecutors, though, said there is no evidence Hassan has truly deradicalized, and said those who participated in the online chats regularly heard lectures supporting suicide attacks and assassination of clerics, among other violent acts.
“Every indication before the Court is that she believes just as firmly in al-Shabaab’s mission as she did in 2011 when the conspiracy began,” prosecutor Danya Atiyeh wrote.
Judge Anthony Trenga, who imposed the sentence, said he largely agreed about Hassan’s radicalization. But he said Hassan’s actions did not merit imposition of a so-called “terrorism enhancement” that usually results in extreme increases to the recommended term under federal sentencing guidelines.
Hassan has the ability to appeal her conviction and sentence.
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