First terror financing trial kicks off in Norway

A Somali-born Norwegian has pleaded not guilty to sending more than NOK 200,000 (USD 30,000) to the leaders of an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group. The trial is the first to be brought under Norway’s 2002 terror financing law.

The 40-year-old man was formally indicted by prosecutors in Oslo’s District Court last year after they accused him of collecting money in Norway and Sweden between 2007 and 2008 and sending it to al-Shabab militants, “in order to support terrorist activities”. Money was also allegedly sent directly to senior al-Shabab commanders Faud Mohammed Qalaf and Aden Hashi Ayro. According to prosecutors, the defendant was in regular telephone contact with Swedish-based Qalaf during his indictment.

The man’s defence attorney, Frode Sulland, said his client intended to send the money to the Islamic Courts Union, a Somali opposition group attempting to restore order in the lawless country. “He did not fully understand that some individuals (in that group) had connections to al-Shabab,” Sulland told The Associated Press. “He sent money for humanitarian purposes and also to the insurgency, but he couldn’t decide what it was used for. It was not illegal to send money to the insurgency.”

The Islamic group, al-Shabab, has been named as a terrorist organisation by several countries, including Norway and the US. It is also thought to have links to al-Qaida.

The man was arrested with two other Somalis on suspicion of financing terrorism in Oslo in February, but is the only one to be brought to trial. He could face up to 20 years behind bars if convicted. Three men were also arrested on suspicion of the same crime in Stockholm, at the same time, but the men have never been charged.

The trial is expected to continue until the end of next month and, once concluded, it will set a precedent for all subsequent cases under the so-far unproven law. No convictions have yet been won by Norwegian prosecutors under the stricter terrorism act imposed in the wake of the September 11 New York attacks.