Minneapolis – A 23-year-old woman said on Thursday that she lied to a grand jury investigating the long-running case of young men who left Minnesota to join a terrorist group in Somalia.
Saynab Hussein pleaded guilty in US District Court to one count of perjury. She admitted that in June 2009 she lied when she told a grand jury she did not know anyone who raised money for the travellers, when she actually helped raise money herself.
Hussein, who is pregnant and studying nursing at college, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
On Wednesday, Hussein became the 21st person to be charged in the government’s investigation into efforts to recruit fighters and raise money for al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked group at the heart of much of the violence in Somalia in recent years.
Since late 2007, at least 22 young men have left Minnesota to join the terrorist group, which at the time was fighting Ethiopians who were assisting Somalia’s former government.
Some of the men have died, some remain at large, and others were among those prosecuted in what the FBI has said is one of the largest efforts to recruit US fighters to a foreign terrorist organization.
The investigation began in the fall of 2008. That October, Shirwa Ahmed detonated a suicide bomb in Somalia. Authorities said he was the first known US citizen to carry out a suicide bombing, and they believed he was radicalized in Minnesota.
Naive and terrified
The following month, the case became public when families of some of the travellers came forward to say their sons were missing.
Hussein, a permanent resident of the US, was among several people called to testify before a grand jury in the months that followed. Prosecutors have said in the cases of other defendants that the investigation was fast-moving at the time, as authorities were trying to make sense of what was going on and stop other men from leaving Minnesota.
Hussein, who has permanent resident status in the US, remained free on bond Thursday.
Her attorney, John Lundquist, said in a statement that Hussein was 19 years old when she appeared before the grand jury.
“Telling an untruth is totally out of character for her, but she was young, naïve and terrified. She made a mistake and deeply regrets it,” he said.