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Minn. al-Shabab fighter surrenders in Somalia

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Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan
Known to his friends as "Miski," in August 2008 the Roosevelt High School student left Minneapolis for Somalia at 17.
Courtesy of FBI

Updated: 8:40 p.m. | Posted: 4:27 p.m.

A Minnesota man who joined al-Shabab in 2008 surrendered to the Somali government in November, the U.S. State Department told MPR News Monday.

  Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, also known as Mujahid Miski, is now in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence in Mogadishu, said Pooja Jhunjhunwala, spokesperson for the State Department.

"The U.S. Mission to Somalia is discussing this case with the Somali Federal Government," Jhunjhunwala  said. "The United States does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia. We do not have any further details on the discussions at this time."  

Hassan, formerly a student at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, had a fallout with al-Shabab recently after he publicly showed sympathy for ISIS and strongly advocated for al-Shabab to join ISIS, according to postings on his Twitter account.

    In October, a faction of al-Shabab fighters posted a video on social media pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Al-Shabab, which is aligned with al-Qaeda,  appeared to react by killing several ISIS supporters, including a suspected leader who was killed in an ambush in the Middle Jubba region last month, according to Somali media.

  Hassan was indicted on terrorism charges in Minnesota in 2009. He apparently joined al-Shabab when he was 17.

In recent years, Hassan has become a jihadi star on social media and has inspired and influenced some young Minnesotans to join terrorist groups overseas, according to U.S. court documents.

Federal prosecutors in Minnesota say Hassan had a series of private communications via Facebook with Abdi Nur, a Minneapolis man who joined ISIS, as detailed in a criminal complaint against Nur.

According to the complaint, Hassan asked Nur via Facebook: "...us brothers from mpls wanted to know how many you guys are back there in sham [Syria/Iraq]?"

"...only three ouf us," Nur replied, adding, "the others there still workin making hijrah [migration]."

In posts on social media in May, Hassan called on his "brothers" in the U.S. to carry out attacks against a Texas contest whose participants drew cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Twitter has suspended Hassan's accounts repeatedly, only to have new ones pop up. For a profile photo on one of his Twitter accounts, he used an image of Troy Kastigar, a Muslim convert from Minneapolis who was killed in Somalia in 2009 after joining al-Shabab.

Mark Wallace, CEO of the Counter Extremism Project, called Hassan the poster child for extreme, radical activity on Twitter. The Counter Extremism Project reported Hassan's accounts numerous times but he continued to come back and maintain his online propaganda under new handles. Wallace said now that he surrendered, Hassan's case could shed light on other online extremists and their connections to terrorists groups.

Wallace believes that something, perhaps related to constantly having to reestablish Twitter accounts, "happened internally with al-Shabab where he became alienated, potentially feared for his life that caused himself to turn in."

Wallace said Hassan's surrender is unusual, but disillusionment with groups like al-Shabab and ISIS is not uncommon. Radicalized members realize the danger in fighting with the groups and decide to leave. 

"It shows that if you are a prominent actor in the online jihad, you're not going to be doing it for a long time." 

    Full statement from the State Department:  

Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, aka "Miski," surrendered to the Federal Government of Somalia on November 6, 2015. Miski, born in Somalia, is a lawful permanent resident of the United States and is in the custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu. The U.S. Mission to Somalia is discussing this case with the Somali Federal Government. The United States does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia. We do not have any further details on the discussions at this time.

 Riham Feshir contributed reporting for this story