Jihadi social media star with Minn. roots now in custody: What's next?

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

The fate of a Minnesota-raised jihadi celebrity is still unclear, even after his recent surrender to Somali government authorities.

The man who went by the name "Mujahid Miski" was an al-Shabab recruit from Minneapolis, known to use Twitter to call for violent attacks in the U.S. According to federal authorities, he influenced other young Minnesotans to join ISIS.

The U.S. State Department said Miski turned himself in last month. But bringing him to the U.S. to face terror charges may be another story.

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Who is "Miski"?

Miski's real name is Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan.

Back in 2008, when he was just 17, he left the U.S. for Somalia. Authorities say he was part of a second wave of young Minnesota men who joined al-Shabab.

But since then, he's been known more for his persona online. He's praised the terror attacks — on the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, for one — and he boasted about being in contact with a gunman who opened fire in Garland, Texas, last spring.

He's seen as a relatively influential player in the online space.

But those attacks were associated with — or inspired by — ISIS, not al-Shabab, right?

Correct.

That's what makes Miski a fascinating character to people who closely follow online terror recruiting.

Counterterrorism experts say Miski straddled the line of two groups: the waves of young men who left to join al-Shabab in Somalia several years ago, and the more recent phenomenon of young men from Minnesota who have enlisted with ISIS.

To be clear: ISIS and al-Shabab see themselves as rivals, but Miski never saw it that way. In fact, on Twitter, he often seemed enamored of ISIS fighters, as though he'd rather be with them.

How difficult will it be to bring Miski to the United States to stand trial for the charges against him?

The U.S. and Somalia don't have an extradition treaty. So it's up to the State Department to decide how to pursue bringing Miski back. State Department officials, for instance, could ask Somalia to deport him.

If Miski is sent to a third country that does have an extradition treaty with the United States, the U.S. government would have an easier time bringing him here.

The Justice Department has a reference manual for U.S. attorneys that spells out various ways that fugitives in complicated cases can be extradited to the U.S. One possibility, which is not a popular one, would be to have U.S. agents abduct the defendant — even if it's against his or her will.

Miski is in the custody of the Somali government. What are the conditions he's being held under?

That's tough to say.

A Twitter account purporting to be Miski's was active as recently as a few days ago — even though State Department officials said he turned himself in a month ago.

Also worth noting: Sometimes the Somali government provides amnesty to people who defect from al-Shabab, as long as they denounce the group and acknowledge their crimes.

Miski spoke today with Voice of America's Somali service. In that interview, he said he did not turn himself in, but was arrested by government forces. He also denied any links to ISIS.

Some American media outlets have been reporting possible ties between Miski and the shooters in San Bernardino. He denied having contacted them, and authorities MPR News has spoken to said there's no evidence to support that connection.

How does a domestic attack like the one in San Bernardino change the calculus for preventative efforts?

The circumstances around the shootings were different from what we've seen locally, in Minnesota.

Here, we've seen young men move to Syria to join ISIS — not to stage any sort of attack in the U.S.

In that way, the San Bernardino shootings bring new attention to what the federal government is trying to do to prevent that kind of violence.

But there are lots of problems with those efforts. For one, they're underfunded: They haven't gotten the millions of dollars President Obama has called for. And they're coming under a lot of fire from civil liberties groups and Muslim communities who find the approach stigmatizing.

In Minnesota, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger has called for things like youth programming to make kids from the local Somali community more resilient. A nonprofit that will be administering the program will hold a community meeeting next week to discuss how the process will work.

MPR News reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim contributed to this report.