A 19-year-old Minneapolis woman indicted this week on federal terrorism charges got as far as Dubai while trying to join Al-Qaida in Afghanistan last year but lacked travel documents, according to a court filing by prosecutors on Friday.
The government’s memorandum outlining why Tnuza Jamal Hassan should stay in federal custody also disclosed that authorities turned her away from boarding a flight bound for Ethiopia late last year and that she went missing days before setting a series of fires at St. Catherine University.
A federal grand jury this week indicted Hassan on charges including attempting to provide support to Al-Qaida, lying to FBI agents and arson — weeks after her Jan. 17 arrest on the campus of her former school. She made her first appearance in federal court on Thursday and is scheduled to return for arraignment and a detention hearing on Feb. 12.
According to Friday’s memo, written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter, family members twice reported Hassan missing last year, first after she allegedly tried to travel to Kabul on Sept. 19, 2017. Hassan is accused of lying to FBI agents three days later when asked about a “recruitment letter” she wrote to two female classmates in March 2017.
Winter shed new light on the content of the letter on Friday, alleging that asked her classmates why they would want to “live under a man made law over the law of Allah.” Hassan urged the classmates to follow her in joining Al-Qaida, the Taliban or Al-Shabab — groups she singled out as “legitimate jihad” groups fighting to implement sharia law, Winter wrote.
Hassan allegedly eventually admitted to writing the letter but Winter said she first “repeatedly denied any involvement and went so far as to suggest to the agents that the person who wrote the recruitment letter was motivated to make the three females who received the letter ‘look bad’ because of their religious faith.”
Winter said prosecutors on Monday plan to share a copy of the March 2017 “recruitment letter” Hassan wrote to her classmates.
Hassan next went missing on Jan. 10, when she ran away from her mother’s Minneapolis home and allegedly hid out on the campus of St. Catherine University before she resurfaced the day of the fires. She had run away 10 days after authorities stopped her from boarding a Dec. 29 flight to Ethiopia alongside her mother. According to Winter, Hassan had multiple “original identification documents that belonged to her older sister” in her carry-on luggage and she also packed a cold-weather jacket and winter boots.
When police found Hassan hiding in a dorm lounge at St. Catherine University, Winter said, she admitted that the fires “were acts of jihad in retaliation for the alleged misconduct of U.S. military forces in Muslim lands.”
“[Hassan] has also bluntly stated that she hoped her actions would kill innocent people,” Winter wrote, later emphasizing that 33 children were present at a day care center in one of the buildings Hassan tried to burn. “Finally, she has admitted that if released from custody but not allowed to leave the U.S., she has the ‘right’ to wage violent jihad here in America.”
Winter’s memorandum also described a chaotic scene on Thursday when agents arrived to transport Hassan to her first federal court appearance. Winter wrote that Hassan “violently resisted jailers and federal agents, repeatedly kicking one officer, and attempting to scratch both a jailer and an FBI agent.” Agents had to use both physical restraints and a “secure transport chair” to move her from Ramsey County jail to the Minneapolis federal courthouse, Winter wrote.
In court on Thursday, Hassan appeared calm and politely answered questions from a judge during her brief appearance. She wore a black dress and head covering that concealed all but her eyes, and both her arms and feet were shackled. Three family members attended the hearing. Both her family and her attorney declined to comment at this stage of the prosecution.
On Friday, Winter previewed the government’s arguments for Hassan’s detention hearing by saying that no evidence about her family ties or lack of criminal history “could overcome the nature and seriousness of the offense charged and the risk of harm that could result if the defendant were to reach Afghanistan.”
“Further, if released, the defendant could — and has shown that she would — deliver on her credible threat to kill American citizens here in the United States.”
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor