January 29, 2016 / 7:26 PM / 2 years ago

Somali-born man handed 9 years in U.S. prison for al Shabaab support

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Somalia-born man who U.S. prosecutors said abandoned Britain where he had been a citizen to return to the country of his birth and joined the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, was sentenced to nine years in prison on Friday.

Mahdi Hashi, 26, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, New York, in light of his guilty plea in May to a charge of conspiring to provide material support to al Shabaab.

A week ago, the judge sentenced two Swedish citizens charged alongside Hashi for their support of al Shabaab, Ali Yasin Ahmed and Mohamed Yusuf, to 11 years in prison.

Prosecutors had sought 15 years in prison for all three, and urged Gleeson to not give a lenient sentence to Hashi, whose United Kingdom citizenship was revoked in 2012.

But Gleeson called the facts as "complicated," accepting in part Hashi's position that he joined al Shabaab not to engage in violent attacks but because he thought it could restore peace to war-torn Somalia.

"I believe you believe this organisation you joined was dramatically different than what you thought or hoped it would be," he said.

Prosecutors said from December 2008 to August 2012, Hashi, Ahmed and Yusuf abandoned their homes in Britain and Sweden to travel to Somalia where they joined al Shabaab.

The militant group, which seeks to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed government and impose a strict version of sharia, or Islamic law, has links to al Qaeda and has carried out attacks in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Unlike Yusuf and Ahmed, who fought in al Shabaab battles, prosecutors said they had no evidence Hashi engaged in violence before leaving the group.

But they said he associated with figures including Omar Hammami, a U.S.-born militant on Washington's most wanted list until his death in a gun battle in 2013.

Hashi, Yusuf and Ahmed were arrested in August 2012 in Djibouti after illegally crossing the border from Somalia on their way to Yemen to join al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, prosecutors said.

Their lawyers said the men were tortured while in custody in Djibouti before being turned over to U.S. authorities for prosecution, though their case had no claims they intended any harm to the United States.

The men will be deported after they are released from prison.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Grant McCool

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