Reston, Va. woman among 5 indicted for allegedly funding al-Qaida-linked terror group

al-Shabaab fighters display weapons as they conduct military exercises in northern Mogadishu, Somalia.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WJLA/AP) -- Five people worldwide, including a northern Virginia woman, were charged Wednesday with funneling money to the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab in Somalia, prosecutors said.

Two American women - Muna Osman Jama, 34, of Reston, and Hinda Osman Dhirane, 44, of Kent, Wash. - were arrested Wednesday and have been charged with 20 counts each of providing material support to a foreign terrorist group, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The U.S. designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008; in 2012, leaders of al-Shabab and al-Qaida announced they were merging.

Jama made an initial appearance Wednesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Alexandria.

Three others overseas were also charged. Farhia Hassan, was arrested Wednesday at her home in the Netherlands. The two others, Fardowsa Jama Mohamed and Barira Hassan Abdullahi, are fugitives in Kenya and Somalia, respectively.

An indictment alleges that, beginning in February 2011, the women sent monthly payments to al-Shabab fighters. The payments were often $100 or so - the largest single payment was $1,500.

According to the U.S. government, the defendants would refer to money they sent overseas as "living expenses," and used code words like "orphans" to refer to al-Shabab fighters and "camels" to refer to trucks.

Prosecutors say Jama and Dhirane directed a fundraising network composed primarily of women, with Jama sending money to Kenya through her conduit and Dhirane doing the same to a contact in Somalia.

Court records do not list attorneys for the women.

Al-Shabab has had some success recruiting U.S. citizens, usually of Somali descent, to join its ranks.

In the Eastern District of Virginia, U.S. citizen and Muslim convert Zachary Chesser was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison for twice trying to travel to Somalia and trying to join al-Shabab. The second time, he took his infant son to the airport with him as cover, thinking that a person traveling with a baby would look less suspicious.

Chesser had gained notoriety on the Internet under the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee for threatening the creators of the "South Park" cartoon show following an episode that he deemed disrespectful to the prophet Muhammad.