Minnesota Man Who Tweeted Jihad Surrenders In Somalia, Suggesting Dissent Among Terror Groups

By Dana Sanchez Published: December 8, 2015, 2:32 pm
Tweeted jihadAfrican Union assault on al-Shabab strongold in Somalia. Photo: AP

A Minnesota high school senior who joined al-Shabab in Somalia and went online Tweeting others to kill U.S. citizens on behalf of Islamic State has turned himself in to authorities in Africa, the U.S. State Department said, according to an Associated Press report in BusinessStandard.

Surrendering may have saved his life.

Mohamed Abdullahi “Miski” Hassan was a 17-year-old high school student when he left the U.S. to join al-Shabab in August 2008. He surrendered to Somalia’s federal government on Nov. 6, the State Department said in an email to the AP.

It’s uncertain why his arrest wasn’t announced immediately.

Hassan is detained by the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu. The U.S. does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia but discussions are underway, said State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota charged Hassan with multiple terrorism-related counts.

Some Minneapolis residents who remember Hassan described him as a soft-spoken kid. In recent years, he became a vocal supporter of Islamic State, posting jihadist rhetoric online, AP reported.

Tweeting under the name “Mujahid Miski,” Hassan urged Twitter followers to perform violent acts in the U.S. including beheadings, according to AP. He praised attacks in other parts of the world and used protests of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore to try to recruit people as jihadists.

In May, Hassan urged an attack on a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, tweeting: “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.”

Hassan had at least 33 Twitter accounts and used social media to help recruit from among people he knew. He was going after “a new class of jihadist including some from Minnesota,” according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, AP reported.

“One of his important activities was he was reaching out to people that he knew, people that were somehow connected to him, and recruiting them,” she said.

Hassan may have been trying to save his own life, Katz said.

If the State Department’s announcement is true, it would make sense because al-Shabab has been attacking and killing those who supported the Islamic State group, she said. “If he wants to save his life, he did the right thing.”

Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants want to silence members suspected of pushing the group to switch alliance from al-Qaida to Islamic State, VoiceofAmerica reported Sept. 30.

The group detained five of its own foreign members, residents of Jamame and other sources told VOA. The town is in the Juba region of Somalia about 60 kilometers south of Mogadishu.

Sources close to the militants said some foreigners had recently voiced support for Islamic State. Al-Shabab’s leaders sent out a memo aimed at silencing pro-IS elements who are accused of stirring up dissent.

The memo said al-Shabab aligns with al-Qaida and any attempt to create discord will be dealt with according to Islamic law, VOA reported. Any speech made in public about policies, operations and guidance must first be cleared with al-Shabab’s media office.

“Some young jihadists were for the pro-IS idea, but they have been warned and most of them have now renounced it,” a source told VOA.

Ken Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, said any affiliation between al-Shabab and ISIS or al-Qaida “is not terribly significant because the movement does not get that much support from either one.”

Al-Shabab dissenters in the past used the affiliation debate as a way to cover themselves for other grievances such as finances or divisions over leadership, Menkhaus said.

Al-Shabab aligned with Al-Qaida soon its creation almost 10 years ago.

In August, a foreigner in al-Shabab’s ranks gave a sermon in a mosque urging the group to “move beyond al-Shabab,” VOA reported. The group needs to work with its “brothers” in Islamic State, he said.

“I think that the movement has been riddled with internal tensions and divisions for a number of years,” Menkhaus told VOA. “I think the debate over affiliation with IS is also going to remain. IS is in ascendance compared to al-Qaida, it has more appeal among some jihadis, and I think we can expect to see this go on.”

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