A former Minneapolis high school student considered one of Minnesota's most-wanted terror suspects surrendered in November to authorities in Somalia, U.S. Department of State officials revealed on Monday.
Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, whose jihadi moniker was "Mujahid Miski," has been under indictment since 2009 for charges including providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to kill abroad. Hassan is on the FBI's list of the top nine terror suspects from Minnesota.
He is thought to have communicated with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant sympathizers on the East Coast and in the South, including a gunman who opened fire at a controversial prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in May.
Authorities on Monday denied earlier news reports linking Hassan to a couple with ISIL sympathies who shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last week.
Hassan turned himself in to Somali authorities on Nov. 6 and is in the custody of the country's intelligence agency in the capital, Mogadishu, said Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman. She said that U.S. officials were "discussing this case" with the Somali government, but noted that the two countries don't have an extradition treaty.
Hassan, who has been connected to a group of Twin Cities men recently charged with trying to join ISIL, was among the second wave of Minnesota men of East African descent who joined Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida's offshoot in Somalia, in 2008.
Before his Twitter account went dark in June, Hassan often posted ISIL propaganda, calling on affiliates to carry out so-called "lone wolf-style" attacks against targets in the West. He resurfaced online after months of silence, dispelling speculation that he had been captured or killed by Al-Shabab fighters for his pro-ISIL stances.
Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's program on extremism, said that while Hassan had fled the U.S. to join Al-Shabab, he had built a large online following as one of ISIL's leading recruiters.
"The question is whether he's a fighter or a propagandist, and I'm not sure that we've seen any evidence that he's on the front lines," Hughes said by phone Monday. "In any event, he's an important figure" in the extremist group's propaganda apparatus.
Hassan was believed to have been in contact with several jihadi sympathizers linked to foiled lone-wolf plots in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New York City, Hughes said. Authorities also say he exchanged tweets with Elton Simpson, one of the two gunmen who were shot dead after opening fire with assault rifles at a cartoon contest in Texas that featured depictions of the prophet Mohammed.
Hassan, who left Minneapolis when he was a senior at Roosevelt High School, previously was thought to have been killed in Mogadishu, according to a 2009 House report.
Ben Petok, spokesman with the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis, on Monday declined to comment on the State Department report.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.