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Judge weighs competency of ex-St. Kate's student facing terror charges

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Tnuza Jamal Hassan
This photo provided by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office shows Tnuza J. Hassan.
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office via AP

A psychologist weighed in Friday on the competency of a former St. Catherine University student who is accused of trying to join al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Tnuza Hassan, 20, faces terrorism and arson charges. Prosecutors say she started fires in several campus buildings last January. No one was injured in the fires, but authorities say dozens of children in an early childhood center were endangered.

In a federal courtroom in St. Paul, a psychologist from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons who evaluated Hassan teleconferenced into the hearing. She said she determined Hassan had an "average ability" to understand the nature and the consequences of the court proceedings. The psychologist also found Hassan had an average ability to assist counsel in her defense.

Hassan donned a baggy, jail-issued sweatshirt and pants. Her hair was pulled back in a low-slung ponytail. It was in stark contrast to some of her other court appearances, including one in February in which she showed up in a white burqa. 

Hassan waved and smiled to her family upon seeing them in the courtroom gallery. She calmly told Magistrate Judge Steven Rau she would waive her right to testify at the hearing or call other witnesses.

"Yeah, I'm good," she said.

The psychologist said that during the five hours she spent with Hassan in August and September, the former St. Kate's student appeared to be open and honest in her answers. She also testified that Hassan was experiencing "symptoms" from April to June, but did not specify what those symptoms were.

Hassan's lawyers had requested the competency hearing. A report detailing her psychological evaluation is sealed. 

Rau is expected to issue a written order on whether Hassan is fit to stand trial. If he rules she is competent, the law still allows her attorneys to claim insanity as a defense. 

Hassan has been charged with arson, attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida in Afghanistan and making a false statement to the FBI. She also faces an arson charge in state court.