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Associated Press, Published March 20 2012

UPDATED: Somalis face sex trafficking trial in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — More than a dozen people accused in a sex trafficking ring run by Somali gangs that reached from Minnesota to Tennessee are facing trial in Nashville.

Out of the total 30 who were indicted, 15 are going to trial this week on charges of conspiracy to commit sexual trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion and charges related to the sexual trafficking of two unidentified juvenile females, which prosecutors say were ages 14 or younger at the time of the offenses.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and the trial is expected to last about two months.

The indictment, which was originally unsealed in 2010 and amended by a superseding indictment in 2011, says the defendants, many of them from the Somali immigrant communities in Minneapolis and Nashville, were members or associates of three gangs called the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws The gang members are accused of forcing teenage girls into prostitution and operated in St. Paul; Minneapolis; Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville. Four unidentified female victims are listed in the indictment.

The indictment accuses the gangs of finding and recruiting young girls, some also Somali, for the purpose of prostitution in exchange for money and drugs between 2000 and 2010. The indictment lists instances in which a young Somali girl, identified as Jane Doe (hash)1, was taken from Minneapolis to Nashville and Columbus to have sex with gang members and others.

The indictment says that another young Somali girl, Jane Doe (hash)2, was told that using her for prostitution was referred to as a "mission" and other gang members wouldn't be charged to have sex with her. Some of the victims are expected to testify during the trial.

Many of the defendants have remained in federal custody since their arrests in 2010 and all 15 are represented by separate defense attorneys. The defendants are Abdifatah Jama Adan, Ahmad Abdulnasir Ahmad, Musse Ahmed Ali, Hassan Ahmed Dahir, Faduma Mohamed Farah, Idris Ibrahim Fahra, Abdullahi Hashi, Fatah Haji Hashi, Abdirahman Abderazak Hersi, Dahir Nor Ibrahim, Abdifatah Bashir Jama, Andrew Kayachith, Fuad Faisal Nur, Yasin Abdirhaman Yusuf and Mohamed Ahmed Amalle.

The trial could involve about two hundred witnesses including many who are being brought down from Minnesota. U.S. District Court Judge William J. Haynes is allowing the defendants to take scheduled Muslim prayer breaks during the proceedings.

Most of the defense attorneys declined to comment before the trial, but some said they expected this to be a complicated trial for both the attorneys and the jurors.

A proposed questionnaire for potential jurors includes questions about opinions about Somalis, immigrants and recent protests over the building of mosques in Murfreesboro and New York City.

Attorney David Cooper, who is representing Abdullahi Hashi, said the case involves hot-button issues and there was significant news coverage of the indictment and arrests. His client, who has been in jail since December 2010, maintains his innocence against the accusations, Cooper said.

"It may be difficult to seat a jury in this case," he said.

Along with sex trafficking, the indictment charges some of the defendants with conspiring to obstruct the investigation by lying to a federal grand jury. It also alleges some stole a motor vehicle, committed burglaries, and engaged in credit card fraud. Those counts and some of the defendants were separated from the current trial and will be heard in court on a later date.

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report last year indicated that human sex trafficking was widespread in the state and better laws and training were needed to address the problem.


Kristin M. Hall can be reached via Twitter at: http://twitter.com/kmhall

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.