Prosecutors: Former St. Kate's student accused of arson left her family multiple times

Tnuza Jamal Hassan
This photo provided by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office shows Tnuza Jamal Hassan. A criminal complaint said Hassan, 19, a former student at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, admitted to investigators that she started the fires on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, including one in a dormitory that housed a day care center. She's charged with first-degree arson.
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via AP

Tnuza Hassan, the 19-year-old accused of setting nine fires in multiple buildings at St. Catherine University in January and was later charged with attempting to join al-Qaida, was hiding from her family at the school when she allegedly carried out the arson.

On two separate occasions in the last five months, Hassan's family reported her missing to law enforcement, according to a memorandum in support of her detention filed Friday evening by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.

On Sept. 19, 2017, Hassan had attempted to travel to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida. A day later, her family reported her missing. A court document says Hassan got as far as Dubai, "but for a lack of visa, she may well be in the ranks of (al-Qaida) at this moment."

And then on Dec. 29, 2017, Hassan again tried to leave the United States for Ethiopia with her mother.

"She possessed in her carry-on a number of original identification documents belonging to her older sister," according to a court document. "Also, her luggage included a cold-weather jacket and winter boots."

Authorities stopped Hassan from boarding the flight to Ethiopia and her mother chose not to travel on to Addis Ababa.

Hassan again had disappeared from her family's Minneapolis apartment on Jan. 10. A week later, she was found hiding in a dorm lounge at St. Catherine after she allegedly set the fires at buildings at the university on Jan. 17, including a daycare center that housed 33 children. No one was injured.

After her arrest, Hassan said she set the fires on campus in retaliation for the U.S. military's actions in Muslim lands, according to a court document. When asked what she would do if released from custody but not allowed to leave the U.S. for a Muslim country, Hassan replied: "Then I have the right to do jihad," according to a court document.

"The defendant espouses defiance to laws of the United States," prosecutors wrote in the memorandum. "In assessing the nature and seriousness of harm to the community posed by her release, the defendant's own recorded words speak chillingly to this issue."

On Wednesday, federal authorities charged her with attempting to provide "personnel" to al-Qaida, arson and making a false statement to the FBI.

In September last year, FBI agents interviewed Hassan about whether she authored and delivered a letter to two fellow students at St. Catherine in March 2017. Prosecutors allege the letter sought to encourage fellow students to "join the jihad in fighting" and to join al-Qaida, the Taliban or al-Shabab.

"Why would you live under a manmade law over the law of Allah," Hassan wrote in the recruitment letter, which prosecutors say she admitted to writing.

Hassan, who has no prior criminal history, also wrote that she considers following the laws of a secular government as "blasphemy" and that Muslim who follows the laws of the United States "will go to hell."

Hassan is scheduled to appear at 11 a.m. Monday in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau for a detention and arraignment hearing.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.