A 22-year-old Minneapolis woman who failed in her bid to join al-Qaida and subsequently tried to set a series of fires at St. Catherine University in St. Paul in 2018 pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal terrorism charges.
Tnuza Jamal Hassan admitted to one count of attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization at her former school’s campus.
Hassan also faces arson charges in Ramsey County in connection with trying to set fires in six buildings on the campus. Hassan admitted setting the fires months after she tried to fly to Afghanistan to join al-Qaida.
According to Hassan’s plea agreement, when she was a freshman at St. Kate’s she drafted an anonymous recruitment letter that encouraged others to join the terrorist group and delivered it to two other Muslim students at the university.
In September 2017, she bought a round-trip ticket without her family’s knowledge from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Dubai and another ticket from Dubai to Kabul, Afghanistan. She said Wednesday that she had no plans to return to the United States but instead wanted to join al-Qaida in Afghanistan. However, she was stopped from continuing on to Afghanistan because she was not aware that she needed a visa to enter that country.
Hassan lied to investigators from Customs and Border Protection and the FBI about writing the recruitment letter, but she did tell agents that joining al-Qaida was the purpose of her attempted trip to Afghanistan. As part of her plea agreement, Hassan acknowledged Wednesday that while she did not plan to be a fighter for the terrorist group, she wanted to lend her support “by other means.”
Hassan again left her family’s home on Jan. 8, 2018, without their knowledge, and moved into a St. Catherine University dorm lounge without the school’s permission. She stayed there until Jan. 17, when she tried to set fires in six buildings at the school. In her plea agreement, Hassan said she set the fires “as a retaliatory act against the United States for its opposition to [al-Qaida] in Afghanistan.”
Hassan’s attorneys declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz scheduled Hassan’s sentencing for Dec. 17. Her charges carry a possible 20-year maximum federal prison sentence and lifetime supervised release.
Hassan was deemed competent to stand trial earlier this year. At a December 2019 hearing, a forensic psychologist told the court that she upgraded Hassan’s diagnosis from schizophrenia to a “mood disorder with a psychotic component” after earlier symptoms disappeared under medical observation and despite Hassan declining medication.