Attorneys for a 19-year-old Twin Cities woman accused of arson at St. Catherine University and trying to join al-Qaida are asking a federal magistrate judge to reconsider returning her to family as she awaits trial on terrorism and arson charges.
In February, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau denied a similar request to release Tnuza Jamal Hassan under conditions that include house arrest and electronic monitoring but left open the possibility of reversing course pending more information.
Hassan has been in custody since her January arrest after allegedly setting a series of fires on the St. Paul campus of St. Catherine University, acts she described as “jihad” carried out a year after she was turned away from Dubai while trying to join al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
In reaching his decision to order her detained, Rau openly wrestled with whether keeping Hassan confined at Sherburne County jail would deepen her “self-radicalization” process. Though he described it as “a question that weighs on my mind,” Rau said he did not have sufficient information about Hassan’s relatives or proposed living arrangements to determine whether home confinement or GPS monitoring would be appropriate as she awaits trial.
On Thursday, attorneys Robert Sicoli and Joshua Johnson asked Rau to now reconsider his order based on new statements from Hassan’s mother and older sister, and after a U.S. Probation Office visit to her family’s Brooklyn Park home failed to turn up “anything problematic.”
“In light of the new information provided to the Court, the release conditions proposed by defendant in addition to any other conditions the Court deems reasonable would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court and protect the public from any danger from defendant,” Sicoli and Johnson wrote.
Hassan’s attorneys proposed that she be monitored at her family’s Brooklyn Park home and that the probation office approve furloughs for her mother or sister to bring her to attorneys’ offices for scheduled meetings. Sicoli and Johnson also proposed that Hassan be prohibited from accessing the internet “in any manner.”
The attorneys sought to bolster their request with a pair of affidavits from Hassan’s mother and older sister that described long, close ties to Hassan and a willingness to closely watch her if she were to be allowed to come home. According to the affidavits, Hassan’s mother came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1992 and is now a fully naturalized citizen.
Last year, the mother left a health care job of nearly 18 years after suffering a stroke but said she is now “doing fine” and is able to supervise Hassan full-time. Hassan’s mother stated “she has always had a good relationship with Tnuza and she speaks with her almost every day on the telephone.”
Hassan’s 25-year-old sister, a U.S. citizen who has lived here her entire life, said she also “has always been very close” to her sister and “does not believe that Tnuza would be a threat to public safety if she were released to home confinement.”
Thursday’s request came amid a series of pretrial motions filed by Hassan’s attorneys that also included a motion to continue her May 21 trial date to no earlier than July 23 “on the grounds that this is a complicated case, in which the government to date has provided defense counsel with thousands of pages of discovery in electronic format, and is continuing to provide defense counsel with more discovery from search warrants of electronic devices.”
A federal grand jury earlier this year indicted Hassan on charges including attempting to provide support to al-Qaida, lying to FBI agents and arson. Rau has yet to rule on Thursday’s motions and prosecutors have not yet filed responses.
At Hassan’s Feb. 12 detention hearing, prosecutors offered evidence that Hassan told investigators that she sought to harm people when she set a string of fires at her former college.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter argued that because she allegedly made an independent choice to try to join al-Qaida and later made statements about her intentions behind the St. Catherine University fires, Hassan “has done absolutely nothing to suggest she would or could follow any conditions of release” and has become “more strident as time goes by.”