MANHATTAN (CN) - The son of a slain Somali protest singer claims in Federal Court that a British money-transfer company bankrolled his mother's assassination and other al-Shabaab terror.
Days before the end of Ramadan last year, musician Saado Ali Warsame's car pulled up to her hotel in Mogadishu and two unknown assassins opened fire on her and her driver. Al-Shabaab - the al-Qaida affiliate in Somalia - soon claimed responsibility for the attack, and the men who killed them were identified, convicted and executed.
In a 24-page complaint, Warsame's son Harbi Hussein claims that a company pulling the strings has never been brought to justice.
The lawsuit traces Warsame's musical career from her song that helped dethrone Somali strongman Siad Barre to the one that allegedly put her in the crosshairs of an international bank.
"Her famous song 'Land Cruiser,' which ridiculed the military junta for exchanging donations of corn for expensive cars, led to Ms. Warsame's arrest and is largely credited for taking down the Barre regime," the complaint states. "She was one of the few Somali female musicians to go on stage without covering her head and she sometimes wore pants, which is unusual for women in Somalia."
After fleeing Somalia's civil war in the 1990s, Warsame spent time in Minneapolis and New York before returning to her native land three years ago to run for the federal parliament. She won a seat representing the northeastern Puntland but she continued her musical career to oppose Dahabshiil, a British company derived from the Arabic word for "gold smelter."
In 2012, a United Nations report found that al-Shabaab used Dahabshiil to plot a "large-scale assassination operation" targeting "national intelligence officers and members of the federal parliament."
Playing on this name, Warsame urged her listeners to boycott the company in the song "Don't Do Business With the Blood Smelter," according to the complaint.
"They call him 'Blood Smelter' to manipulate the public," one lyric says. "He has lot of money to make sure Mogadishu will never be at peace."
The YouTube video of this song shows still frames of Warsame belting out those words along with blistering images of the company's name dripping with blood from an assault rifle and a protester holding a sign "Dahabshiil Stop Genocide."
"In response to her song, 'Don't Do Business With the Blood Smelter,' Dahabshiil placed a multi-million dollar bounty on Ms. Warsame's life," the complaint states.
Hussein, who is now living in Minnesota, is suing Dahabshiil Transfer Services Ltd. and three of its subsidiaries on behalf of his late mother's estate and himself under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
"The murder of his mother by international terrorists has caused him severe mental anguish, extreme emotional pain and suffering, and the loss of his mother's society, companionship, comfort, advice and counsel," the lawsuit says.
Joshua Arisohn, an attorney with Bursor & Fisher, spent nine years representing Arab Bank in the first Anti-Terrorism Act case to go to trial. Arisohn said in a phone interview that he believes this civil lawsuit is the first to target al-Shabaab financing in general, and Dahabshiil in particular.
Dahibshiil vowed in a statement that it would strongly defend against what it called a "meritless" lawsuit.
"While court papers have yet to be served we believe any claim of this nature to be completely and absolutely false," the statement says. "We have absolutely no involvement whatsoever with the funding of terrorist organizations. We have never previously been the subject of any investigation of any kind in relation to alleged terrorist funding. We operate the strictest possible compliance and preventative measures to combat all forms of financial crime and have invested heavily in state-of-the-art compliance systems to ensure that we meet and exceed all the requirements of the regulators."
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