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Wiretaps a Go for Trial on Somali Terror Aid

(CN) - The government can use translated wiretapped phone calls and expert testimony to prosecute two women suspected of funding a Somalian terrorist organization, a Minneapolis federal judge ruled.

Amina Farah Ali and Hawo Hassan face a jury trial on charges of funding the al-Shabaab terrorist network, based in Somalia, although the women claim they were simply raising money for a charity.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled Friday that translated phone calls involving Ali and Hassan are admissible as evidence, since "the law is well settled that transcripts of foreign-language recordings are admissible and are used by the jury during trial and deliberations."

Prosecutors defended their capitalization of the words "youth" and "jihad" in the transcripts, saying "youth" is commonly used to refer to the al-Shabaab terror network, but Davis ruled for the women on this count.

"The court will order that the words 'youth' and 'jihad' not be capitalized because the government has not established that the translator used to create the English translations is qualified as an expert who can testify that when the speakers in the taped conversations used the term 'youth' the speaker was referring to al-Shabaab," he wrote.

Ali and Hassan also tried to exclude evidence that they had transferred money from their own accounts to those of known terrorists, including "evidence that prior to the charged conspiracy, defendant Ali sent funds to 20 men so that they could travel to Somalia to join the jihad."

But attempts to emphasize the prejudicial nature of the materials carried little weight with Davis, who said the evidence has sufficient probative value.

"The evidence described is necessary to address each defendant's knowledge and intent with regard to their conduct that forms the basis of the criminal charges asserted against them," the 18-page decision states.

Ali and Hassan were also unsuccessful with a motion to limit the testimony of Somalian and al-Shabaab experts Matthew Bryden and Evan Kohlmann. They claimed Bryden could wind up "commenting on what he reads in the newspaper," and that Kohlmann "does not speak Arabic or Somali and has never visited Somalia, and that prior to his retention to provide an expert opinion in this case, he did not research Somali politics or the Somali government," according to the court.

Davis said the accused will have the chance to raise these claims through objections and on cross-examination at trial.

"Although Kohlmann's previous expert testimony was related to the terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, the court finds that Kohlmann has nonetheless demonstrated the necessary level of expertise and experience with regard to the terrorist organization at issue in this case, al-Shabaab," he wrote.

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