Washington (CNN) -- They sent money overseas for "orphans" and "brothers in the mountains," or for "camels," according to court records.
The Justice Department alleges that three women arrested Wednesday actually directed the money labeled "living expenses" to Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group in Somalia designated by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Arrested in their homes were Muna Osman Jama of Reston, Virginia; Hinda Osman Dhirane of Kent, Washington; and Farhia Hassan of the Netherlands, according to a Justice Department statement.
Two other women named in the indictment are fugitives in Kenya and Somalia, the statement said.
The three arrested were charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and 20 counts of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.
If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Court records said the operation used code words to disguise the money transfers to Somalia and Kenya. References to orphans and brothers in the mountains meant the Islamic insurgents, and camels referred to trucks.
"The money transfers often were broken down into small amounts as low as $50 or $100, and the funds were intended for use by al-Shabaab insurgents operating in Somalia," according to the court records.
The United States designated Al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked militant group, as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2008.