Terror Suspect Hassan Pleads Not Guilty, Remanded to Jail

February 12, 2018 08:30 PM

A former St. Catherine's University student accused of terrorism said she's not guilty when she appeared in front of federal judge Steven Rau on Monday morning for her arraignment. 

Prosecutors told the judge he should not allow 19-year-old Tnuza Hassan to leave jail while she awaits her trial, scheduled for April 16, because she's a danger to the community and a flight risk. 


RELATED: Tnuza Jamal Hassan Timeline

Rau agreed and ordered her return to jail until her next hearing. 

Prosecutors said Hassan became self-radicalized watching videos of American extremist al-Qaida preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki. His YouTube recruiting videos radicalized dozens of young men from the Twin Cities. YouTube took those videos down but not before prosecutors said the videos radicalized Hassan. 

Prosecutors say she attempted to recruit two St. Catherine's students to join al-Qaida in March 2017. In September of last year, she tried to fly to Kabul, Afghanistan, to join the terrorist group, but was stopped in Dubai for lack of a visa. Three months later, she attempted to fly to Ethiopia with her mother using her sister's ID, but was stopped from boarding by authorities. Her mother chose not to continue on the flight. 

She disappeared shortly after that until she was charged with setting fires at St. Catherine's University, including inside a building that housed a day care center in which 33 kids and eight adults were present. No one was hurt. Prosecutors said Hassan set the fires on Jan. 17 as a way to wage "jihad" and her motivation was to burn the buildings down and kill people. 

RELATED: Woman Accused in St. Kate's Arson Tried to Leave US to Join Terrorist Groups, Court Filing Says

Hassan's mother and sister reported her missing twice in the months before the St. Kate's incident. 

Hassan was born and raised in Minnesota. Her lawyer, Robert Sicoli, argued that she was unsophisticated, and didn't have a plan to become a terrorist.

Sicoli said his client had not had any contact with al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan, and added the government had taken some of Hassan's actions out of context. One example he cited was an altercation between Hassan and federal agents last week at jail was caused by agents attempting to take off her burqa.

"Hassan is a devout Muslim and fought back against agents because a man was not supposed to touch her unless he was married to her," Sicoli said.

RELATED: Woman Accused of St. Kate's Arson Now Facing Federal Terrorism Charge

At the arraignment Monday, Hassan wore a white burqa. A female marshal escorted her out after the hearing. 

Rau said he is open to considering a house arrest for Hassan. The judge considered whether sending her back to jail could further radicalize her. He told her family that if they had new information that could help him make a different decision, he would be open to listening to them. 

Terrorism experts who study radicalized individuals believe it's too early to know if somebody like Hassan could begin to deradicalize.  

"The Hassan case is interesting because it fits at two different activities we don't see women participate in," said Bennett Clifford, who studies violent extremists at George Washington University's Program on Extremism. "One is planning and executing attacks." 

RELATED: Sources: FBI Investigating Woman Charged with Arson at St. Catherine

Bennett added, "There has been a significant number of women who've been convicted of jihadist plots."

The program's latest report found women in 14 states, including Minnesota, were radicalized in the past seven years. The average age of a female jihadist was 27.


Farrah Fazal

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