A U.S. citizen is jailed in central Minnesota and charged with participating in the kidnapping of a freelance journalist in Somalia, where he was held for nearly three years over a $20 million ransom.
Abdi Y. Hassan, 51, was charged in federal court in New York with six felony counts ranging from kidnapping to hostage-taking to illegal use of firearms.
Hassan was born in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was arrested last Friday in Minneapolis and will be returned to New York for further court proceedings.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said late Thursday afternoon that he did not know where in the United States Hassan currently resides or why he was in Minneapolis when arrested. Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest Somali community.
Hassan’s criminal record in Minnesota appears limited to a handful of misdemeanor traffic violations between 2005 and 2010. During those years, he had listed addresses in Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Property records show he resided there until as recently as 2015.
Although the kidnapping victim was not identified in the federal charging documents — which describe him only as having dual citizenship in the United States and another unidentified country — the timeline of his captivity matches that of Michael Scott Moore, a German-American who was abducted by pirates in Somalia while he was there writing a book about piracy.
The charges do not specify why he was ultimately released in September 2014 or whether any ransom was paid on his behalf.
According to the criminal complaint, Hassan and other heavily armed captors abducted the journalist on Jan. 21, 2012, from a vehicle in the northern Somali city of Galkayo. One or more of the men hit their victim in the head and body with guns.
During the course of the journalist’s captivity, a dozen men armed with AK-47 rifles and belt-fed machine guns guarded him as he was moved to various locations. Two other foreign hostages, both non-Somali, were abducted from a fishing vessel off the Somali coast by the same men and then released in November 2012.
Hassan, who appeared to the journalist to be a leader among the other armed guards, directed his hostage to make a phone call and encourage family to sell a residence to pay for his release. This was one of several such calls made to family, and some of them were recorded by the FBI, which also secured videos of the hostage speaking on camera.
Threats by the hostage-takers if the $20 million was not received included withholding food and water from the journalist. The gunmen also demanded a letter signed by a high-ranking U.S. official pledging that the kidnappers would not be held responsible for the abduction.
At one point, the family member was told that the situation had “gotten very serious” and that another hostage had been tortured in front of the journalist.
A three-day deadline was set for payment of the ransom; otherwise, the journalist told the family member, the captors would sell the journalist to al-Shabab, a jihadist fundamentalist group that in 2012 pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization al-Qaida.
One video showed the journalist with a prayer shawl over his head and surrounded by masked and armed kidnappers. The hostage was heard saying that his captors wanted the United States and another country to pay the ransom.
Hassan arrived in the United States in September 2015. In an interview with a U.S. customs officer, he said he worked as a security minister for Galmudug state in Somalia, which includes Galkayo. He said a major part of his duties was arranging for the release of the journalist.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.