OFAC Takes Aim at Al-Shabaab

Today the United States Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has designated two men believed to be linked to the foreign terrorist organization al-Shabaab. Omar Hammami and Hassan Mahat Omar were both designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13536, which targets for sanctions individuals and entities engaging in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Somalia.

Due to today’s designation, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with these two individuals and any assets they have under U.S. jurisdiction have been blocked.

Omar Hammami is thought to serve as a military tactician, recruitment strategist and financial manager for al-Shabaab. According to the U.S. Government, Hammami has commanded guerilla forces in combat, organized attacks and plotted strategy with al-Qa’ida, including a suicide bombing attack carried out by a Somali-American from Minnesota who traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. In addition to this designation, Hammami, has been indicted in U.S. District Court in Southern Alabama on a three-count indictment for allegedly providing material support to al-Shabaab, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

The other designee, Hassan Mahat Omar is alleged to be a key figure in al-Shabaab’s efforts to recruit new members and raise funds and to exert leadership and decision-making authority in al-Shabaab’s internal decisions. Omar also is believed to be one of the leaders of a mosque in the Eastleigh section of Nairobi, Kenya, where he is accused of raising funds and recruits for recruit al-Shabaab. Additionally, Omar has issued a fatwa opposing the outcome of the Djibouti peace process. Similar fatwas have been used by al-Shabaab as religious justification to wage jihad against Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.

What is interesting about this set of designations is that Omar Hammami was actually indicted for material support of a foreign terrorist organization. His originally indictment was issued on November 27, 2007 and was unsealed nearly a year ago on August 5, 2010. However, what’s more interesting is that al-Shabaab was not designated by the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization until February 8, 2008; a few months after Hammami’s indictment.

However, after digging a little deeper, the answer to what had occurred in regards to the Hammami indictment revealed itself. Hammami was originally indicted for a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2332a, Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He was not charged with the material assistance of a terrorist organization until the superseding indictment came out on September 24, 2009.

Either way, the U.S. government believed Hammami was providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization by mid to late 2009. Even though the Somali Sanctions wouldn’t be effectuated until April 2010, certainly OFAC could have designated Hammami under Executive Order 13224, the Global Terrorism Sanctions. So the question remains, what took OFAC so long to act and why did they chose to designate him under the Somali Sanctions as opposed to the Global Terrorism Sanctions? I would love to hear some opinions on this, particularly from our Government subscribers. Please leave a comment or email me directly. Thanks and have a great weekend.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in OFAC matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or ferrari@ferrari-legal.com.

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