A former Minneapolis high school student, now a terror suspect jailed in Somalia, admitted previous ties to the militant group Al-Shabab, but denied involvement with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists or the mass shootings that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last week.
Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, known by his jihadi moniker on social media as “Mujahid Miski,” spoke by telephone with a reporter from Voice of America’s Somali Service on Tuesday, one day after U.S. State Department officials revealed that Hassan turned himself in to Somali authorities Nov. 6. He remains in the custody of the country’s intelligence agency in the capital, Mogadishu.
Hassan, 28, who attended Roosevelt High School, said he returned to Somalia to defend against Ethiopian intervention. Although he said he joined Al-Shabab, he said he left in 2013 “because of the oppression that they are doing on the people, the way they are killing people, and the imprisonment of innocent people and the torture without no evidence at all.”
He told Voice of America that, last month, Al-Shabab members raided his home and blindfolded and terrorized his family. Hassan said he escaped and was walking in the forest two weeks ago when he was spotted by villagers who informed government forces. He then was arrested.
Hassan has been under indictment since 2009 for charges including providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to kill abroad. He is on the FBI’s list of the top nine terror suspects from Minnesota. He has been connected to a group of Twin Cities men recently charged with trying to join ISIL, and was among the second wave of Minnesota men of East African descent who joined Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida’s offshoot in Somalia, in 2008.
Known for his prolific presence on Twitter, Hassan was believed to have communicated with ISIL sympathizers in the United States, including a gunman who opened fire at a controversial prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, last May. However, he denied involvement with the incident, and with last week’s shootings believed to be perpetrated by ISIL sympathizers.
“I don’t have anything to do with that attack or have any connections with those people,” he told the U.S. government-funded public broadcaster. “I am not part of ISIS [ISIL] and I have nothing to do with … any other jihadi movement.”
Before his Twitter account went dark in June, Hassan often posted ISIL propaganda and called on others to carry out so-called “lone wolf-style” attacks against targets in the West. However, Hassan said in the interview that many people posted under his Twitter handle.
A State Department spokeswoman said Monday 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 said in the interview that he has no intention of returning to the United States.
“I am a Somali citizen. I am in my country. I am with my people. And I will not come to the United States,” he said. “First of all, if I did any crimes, I did not commit those crimes in America. Any crimes that I have committed, if there is any, it is done over here in Somalia. If I am to be going to court, it is going to be in Somalia, not in America.”