A former St. Catherine University student accused of trying to join al-Qaida must stay in federal custody as she awaits trial on terrorism, arson and false statements charges, a judge ordered Tuesday.
While U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau acknowledged 19-year-old Tnuza Jamal Hassan's young age moved him to welcome a challenge to her detention, he pointed to new evidence in ordering that she remain jailed. Hassan has been in federal custody since her January arrest after allegedly setting a series of fires on the St. Paul campus where she once attended classes. The fires came months after Hassan allegedly traveled as far as Dubai in a purported attempt to join al-Qaida in Afghanistan and weeks after she was turned away from boarding a flight to Ethiopia.
In its arguments against releasing Hassan, the government has also underscored that when asked after her arrest by law enforcement what she would do if she were released but not permitted to leave the U.S., Hassan allegedly replied, "Then I have the right to do jihad."
Rau in February invited Hassan's attorneys to supply more information to bolster their argument that Hassan should be released before trial, saying 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.
Earlier this month, attorneys Robert Sicoli and Joshua Johnson provided affidavits signed by Hassan's mother and older sister vowing to look after her, and the attorneys argued that a visit to the family's home by federal probation officers did not turn up anything problematic. Despite pointing out Hassan's "youthfulness," Rau determined that the seriousness of the charges against Hassan, the weight of the government's evidence, and her "personal character and danger to the community" meant that releasing her before trial would not be proper in this case. Rau added that Hassan's family's "good intentions ... do not satisfy me that the community would be safe."
In a memorandum filed late last week, prosecutors disclosed that FBI agents discovered "many files of concern" on a cellphone belonging to Hassan. The files included "several editions of terrorist propaganda that encourages individuals to conduct unlawful violence" and "schematics depicting two SCU buildings, St. Mary's Hall and Coeur de Catherine [the SCU student center]," that were allegedly saved to her phone in early January.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats said agents also found a document file on her phone that listed five phrases: "Backpack, Pressure Cooker, Metal Shards, Nails, Cell Phone." Kovats said the document was created Jan. 11, a day after Hassan's mother reported her missing. Prosecutors say Hassan hid out at the St. Catherine campus before resurfacing on Jan. 17, when she allegedly set multiple fires.
Speaking afterward, Sicoli said that he was "not surprised by the judge's ruling but a little disappointed."
"We didn't even have a chance to argue our motion — but that's the way the system works," Sicoli said. "We filed because he invited us to file it."
Rau also agreed Tuesday to push back Hassan's trial date until at least July. He said that he would either issue a new date or leave that matter to U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz, who will be presiding over the case in Minneapolis.
Rau will also be reviewing nine federal search warrants before weighing in on the defense's argument that the government relied on "overbroad" reasoning to gather evidence in the case.