FBI agents searching the phone of a 19-year-old Twin Cities woman accused of trying to join Al-Qaida have discovered blueprints for two St. Catherine University buildings and a list including the phrases “pressure cooker” and “metal shards,” federal prosecutors say.
Tnuza Jamal Hassan has been in federal custody since her January arrest after allegedly setting a series of fires on the St. Paul college campus, where she once attended classes. Hassan, who awaits trial on terrorism, arson and false statements charges, has asked to be returned to her family under supervision.
But in a memorandum filed late Wednesday, federal prosecutors argued that nothing outside of detention can ensure the public’s safety given Hassan’s repeated efforts to leave the country and her own alleged statements to authorities.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Kovats wrote 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.
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.
Last week, Hassan’s attorneys asked federal Magistrate Judge Steven Rau to consider returning her to her family as she awaits trial. Attorneys Robert Sicoli and Joshua Johnson asked Rau to reconsider his previous order for detention 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 last week.
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 close ties to Hassan and a willingness to closely watch her if she were allowed to come home. But prosecutors argued that Hassan’s motion did not present “relevant new facts” to support her release from custody, nor do her family’s declarations “reasonably assure the safety of the community or mitigate the risk of flight.”
Kovats said Hassan twice attempted international travel, including reaching Dubai last year in an alleged effort to join Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. She allegedly tried to recruit others to join her and lied to both the FBI and her family in the process, Kovats said.
Kovats described Hassan’s family’s declarations as “likely well-intentioned and earnest.” But, he said, “the question before the Court is not about the good intentions of the defendant’s family, but about the defendant’s intentions, if she [is] released. On this point, the record is abundantly clear.”
According to prosecutors, Hassan was asked after her arrest what she would do if released from custody but not allowed to leave the U.S. “Then I have the right to do jihad,” she allegedly replied.
Kovats also underlined that Hassan further told authorities after her arrest that they were “lucky” that she did not know how to build a bomb when she set fire to her former school.
“The community remains lucky the defendant did not know how to build a bomb,” Kovats wrote. “There is no good reason to see if this luck will hold by releasing this dangerous defendant.”