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Minnesota terror case shows challenge of predicting attacks



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — After Tnuza Jamal Hassan was stopped from flying to Afghanistan last September, she allegedly told FBI agents that she wanted to join al-Qaida and marry a fighter, and that she might even wear a suicide belt.

She also said she was angry at U.S. military actions overseas and admitted that she tried to encourage others to “join the jihad in fighting,” but she said she had no intention of carrying out an attack on U.S. soil, according to prosecutors. Despite her alleged admissions, she was allowed to go free.

Four months later, the 19-year-old was arrested for allegedly setting small fires on her former college campus in St. Paul in what prosecutors say was a self-proclaimed act of jihad. No one was hurt by the Jan. 17 fires at St. Catherine University, but her case raises questions about why she wasn’t arrested after speaking to the agents months earlier and shows the difficulty the authorities face in identifying real threats.

“She confessed to wanting to join al-Qaida and took action to do it by traveling overseas. Unless there are other circumstances that I’m not aware of, I would have expected that she would’ve been arrested,” said Jeffrey Ringel, a former FBI agent and Joint Terrorism Task Force supervisor who now works for a private security firm, the Soufan Group, and isn’t involved in Hassan’s case. “I think she would’ve met the elements of a crime.”

Authorities aren’t talking about the case and it’s not clear how closely Hassan was monitored before the fires, if at all. When asked if law enforcement should have intervened earlier, FBI spokesman Jeff Van Nest and U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Tasha Zerna both said they couldn’t discuss the case.

Counterterrorism experts, though, say it seems she wasn’t watched closely after the FBI interview, as she disappeared for days before the fires. But the public record in a case doesn’t always reveal what agents and prosecutors were doing behind the scenes.
Authorities are often second-guessed when someone on their radar carries out a violent act. Some cases, including Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, reveal missed signs of trouble. The FBI has admitted it made a mistake by failing to investigate a warning last month that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, could be plotting an attack.

U.S. officials were also warned about Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years before his 2013 attack, though a review found it was impossible to know if anything could’ve been done differently to prevent it. And the FBI extensively investigated Omar Mateen, the gunman in the June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. As part of an internal audit, then-FBI Director James Comey reviewed the case and determined it was handled well.

Hassan, who was born in the U.S., has pleaded not guilty to federal counts of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida, lying to the FBI and arson. She also faces a state arson charge. One fire was set in a dormitory that has a day care where 33 children were present.

Although her attempts to set fires largely failed, Hassan told investigators she had expected the buildings to burn down and “she hoped people would get killed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said in court. He added that she was “self-radicalized” and became more stringent in her beliefs and focused on jihad.

Hassan’s attorney, Robert Sicoli, declined to talk about whether the family saw warnings. Her mother and sister declined to speak to The Associated Press.

According to prosecutors, Hassan tried to travel to Afghanistan on Sept. 19, making it as far as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before she was stopped because she lacked a visa.

Prosecutors say that when the agents interviewed Hassan on Sept. 22, she admitted she tried to join al-Qaida, saying she thought she’d probably get married, but not fight. When pressed, she allegedly told investigators she guessed she would carry out a suicide bombing if she had to do it but she wouldn’t do anything in the U.S. because she didn’t know whom to target.

Hassan admitted that she wrote a letter to her roommates in March encouraging the women to “join the jihad in fighting,” prosecutors allege. The letter was initially reported to campus security, and it’s unclear when it was given to the FBI or if the agency made contact with Hassan before the September interview.

It’s also unknown how closely U.S. authorities were monitoring Hassan between the interview and Dec. 29, when she was barred from traveling to Ethiopia with her mother. Prosecutors say at the time, Hassan had her sister’s identification and her luggage contained a coat and boots, which she wouldn’t have needed in Ethiopia’s warm climate.

Hassan later ran away from home and her family reported her missing Jan. 10. Her whereabouts were unknown until the Jan. 17 fires.

Ron Hosko, a retired assistant director of the FBI’s criminal division who has no link to Hassan’s case, said that based on an AP reporter’s description of it, “I would certainly look at this person, not knowing more, as somebody who would be of interest to the FBI.” However he cautioned that the public doesn’t know the extent of the agency’s efforts to monitor Hassan, including whether she was under surveillance, what sort of background investigation was done and how agents might have assessed her capacity to follow through on a threat. He also said the FBI might have made decisions based on her mental capacity.

“Not every subject requires 24/7 FBI surveillance,” he said. The reality is that hard decisions on resources are being made constantly, with the biggest perceived threats receiving the most attention.

“I’m sure there are plenty of days where they hope they are right and they are keeping their fingers crossed,” he added.

Stephen Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas, said monitoring possible threats is a delicate balance, and law enforcement can’t trample civil rights while trying to prevent violence.

“This is a circle that can’t be squared,” he said. “We are never going to keep tabs on every single person who might one day pose a threat.”


Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor makes first court appearance; leaves jail after posting $400,000 bond



STAR TRIBUNE — The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder and manslaughter in the July shooting death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond made his first court appearance Wednesday, where his bail was set at $400,000.

During the hearing, Mohamed Noor said his first public words since the incident in south Minneapolis, spelling his name and confirming his address to Judge Kathryn Quaintance. Noor, slight and soft-spoken, said nothing else during the 15-minute hearing at the Public Safety Facility in downtown Minneapolis.

Quaintance set his bail at $400,000 on the condition that he turn over his passport, surrender his firearms and ammunition and refrain from contacting his former partner Matthew Harrity, the lone witness in the racially charged case that drew international outrage and led to the ouster of former police Chief Janeé Harteau. Bail without conditions was set at $500,000. Noor paid the $400,000 conditional bond and left the Hennepin County jail late Wednesday in the company of his attorney.
Police union officials said that Noor was fired from the department on Tuesday.

Throughout the hearing Wednesday, Noor stood behind a glass partition in an orange jail jumpsuit, wearing a solemn expression. He barely turned to face the packed courtroom gallery, never making eye contact with a group of relatives and friends seated in the front row. Several dozen other supporters huddled in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Noor, 32, turned himself in on Tuesday morning, a day after authorities issued a sealed warrant for his arrest. He is charged with firing his gun from inside his police SUV and hitting Damond, who had called 911 to report a suspected assault in the alley behind her Fulton neighborhood home. Her death provoked protests and became a symbol, in Minneapolis and her native Australia, of how police shootings affect all communities. It also led to Harteau’s firing by then-Mayor Betsy Hodges.

Noor maintained his silence, choosing not to speak to state investigators or the grand jury investigating Damond’s death. The grand jury concluded its probe Monday, the day before Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced his charging decision.

Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Sweasy argued that Noor’s bail should be substantial, saying that he posed a flight risk, and that her office had developed “credible evidence” last fall that Noor had left the country.

The report proved false, but she said prosecutors grew more worried after hearing from a witness who claimed that he had “offered to hide [Noor] out.”

“These are the witness’ words, not mine,” she said.

Noor’s attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said in court that the charges against his client were baseless, while calling the initial $500,000 bail “frankly, outrageous.”

He pointed out that Noor had submitted his DNA to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in June for testing, and later voluntarily went to City Hall to meet with an investigator after rumors surfaced that he had left the country.

Plunkett said that Noor posed no risk of fleeing, adding that the former officer came to Minnesota at the age of 5, escaping a civil war in his native Somalia, and had never known another home.

“He has no connection to any other place,” said Plunkett, after waiving a reading of the charges. “Your Honor, Mr. Noor is an American.”

After hearing from both sides, Quaintance offered the conditional bail and set Noor’s next court date for May 8.

“Officer Noor, like any other person charged with a crime in America, is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Quaintance said. “If he has a trial, it will be in a court of law, not in the media or in the streets.”

Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said that he was surprised by the prosecution’s high bail request, particularly considering that Noor voluntarily turned himself in and has ties to the community.

He also scoffed at the prosecution’s depiction of Noor as a danger to the public, pointing out that his alleged crime was committed in the course of his duties as a police officer — a profession that is authorized to use deadly force if lives are in imminent danger. “The point is that we’re not talking about some madman, even under the government’s version of this case, that poses some particular danger to the community out there,” Pacyga said.

Jeronimo Yanez, the only other Minnesota officer in recent history charged in an on-duty shooting, was released on his own recognizance. A jury last summer cleared Yanez of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.

About a month after that verdict, Damond was killed in Minneapolis.

Messages left for Noor’s father went unreturned on Wednesday.

The Somali-American Police Association broke its monthslong silence on Wednesday, saying in a statement that it was “saddened” by what it called politically and possibly racially motivated charges.

We believe Freeman is more interested in furthering his political agenda than he is in the facts surrounding this case,” the statement read. “The charges brought against Officer Noor are not intended to serve justice; rather, they are meant to make an ‘example’ of him.”

An MPD spokeswoman on Wednesday confirmed that an internal probe into the incident was ongoing, but otherwise declined to comment.

Lt. Bob Kroll said claims that Noor plotted to leave the country were news to him.

“He was on administrative leave so he had daily check-ins with [Internal Affairs], I believe,” said Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents the department’s roughly 880 sworn police officers.

He said they will likely file a grievance on Noor’s behalf to challenge the firing, which is standard practice in disciplinary cases. He said that he wasn’t entirely surprised by the department’s decision to fire Noor, who had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. “I understand when you’ve got a person facing those charges, there’s a lot of pressure for the administration to get that person off the table, given the public outcry,” he said.

The union has come under fire from critics from both within the department and outside its ranks for not publicly defending Noor.

Noor, who joined the department three years ago, is named in a brutality lawsuit wending its way through federal court. Earlier this month, a judge in that case ruled that an attorney for the woman suing Noor along with another Minneapolis cop and the department was not allowed to ask questions about the Damond shooting.

Staff writers Elizabeth Sawyer and Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.

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Resettlement of Somalis in Minnesota plummets in wake of Trump policies



MINNPOST — Micaela Schuneman and Ben Walen both lead refugee resettlement efforts at separate nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities. And both have recently noticed a similar trend in their line of work: a substantial decline in the number of Somali refugee admissions.
“Last year, for my office, we had resettled 99 Somali refugees during [the first half of] our fiscal year, which started on October 1st,” said Schuneman, who’s director of refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota. “This year, we’ve resettled 13.”

Walen, the director of refugee services at the Minnesota Council of Churches, has seen a similar pattern. In the last several years, Somalis accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the organization’s overall refugee resettlement caseload. This year, however, “we’re down to below 20 percent,” he said.

That’s a big shift from the number of Somali refugees the state has resettled in previous years. From 2014-2017 nearly 4,000 refugees from Somalia were resettled in Minnesota, which represented the single largest group of new arrivals brought here each year.

That’s not a big surprise. The administration of President Donald Trump has reduced overall refugee arrivals since it came into office in 2017. Yet the primary cause is the administration’s increased scrutiny of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, said Schuneman and Walen.

Last year, President Trump signed an executive order seeking to temporarily suspend all refugee admissions for 120 days. Despite multiple legal challenges, the moratorium went into effect in June. When the suspension expired in October, the resettlement programs reopened their services to new arrivals — except for those from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. government designated those nations as “high-risk,” imposing another 90-day ban to implement tighter security measures. That 90-day suspension ended in January, “but we have not seen Somali arrivals really pick up since,” said Schuneman.

Reports from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) confirm those observations. Although March marks halfway through the federal government’s fiscal year, only 57 refugees from Somalia have so far been resettled statewide. During the same period last year, that number exceeded 650.

That makes Karen refugees from Burma the largest group so far admitted in Minnesota. Statewide, a little over 240 refugees have been resettled during the current federal fiscal year. They include 60 people from Burma, 30 from Congo and 38 from Ethiopia. “People coming out of Burma are about 45 percent of our arrival so far this year,” Walen said. “Our next larger group is people from Somalia, 16 percent total.”

In addition to the seven-month ban on most Somali immigration, stricter security measures imposed on Somali immigrants — which the government says would prevent potential terrorists from coming to America — was still another factor in the reduction.

“Much of who will be resettled to the United States — and who we welcome to Minnesota through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — is dependent on overseas screening and vetting process carried out by the U.S. Department of State in coordination with many other federal agencies,” DHS told MinnPost in an email. “These processes lead to final approval and ultimately travel to the United States. The current administration has been reviewing and updating existing processes, which has led to a dramatic slowing of arrivals to the United States.”

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Mpls. officer charged with murder in Justine Damond case



KARE 11 — MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in to authorities Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the death of Justine Damond.

Noor’s attorney Thomas Plunkett confirms the officer is currently in custody, and the Hennepin County Jail roster lists the charges against Noor as third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

According to the warrant that spells out the charges against Noor:

“There’s no evidence that, in that short timeframe, Officer Noor encountered, appreciated, investigated or confirmed a threat that justified the decision to use deadly force. Instead, Officer Noor recklessly and intentionally fired his handgun from the passenger seat. A location at which he would have been less able than Officer (Matthew) Harrity to see and hear events on the other side of the squad car.”
The warrant goes on to say that Harrity did pull out his gun, but held it to his side and didn’t fire. Statements from Harrity say both he, and Officer Noor, felt a threat.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the Grand Jury Room of the courthouse to discuss his charging decision. KARE 11 will have multiple crews there and plans to carry the proceedings live. A community action group called “Justice for Justine” has announced it will hold a rally tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the intersection of 50th and Washburn Avenue South.

Damond’s family said in a written statement that they’re pleased that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided to bring charges. They say they hope a strong case will be presented and Noor will be convicted.
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Their statement says justice “demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect.”
“Justine’s family in Australia and the US applaud today’s decision to criminally charge Officer Noor with Justine’s murder as one step toward justice for this iniquitous act,” reads the full family statement. “While we waited over eight months to come to this point, we are pleased with the way a grand jury and County Attorney Mike Freeman appear to have been diligent and thorough in investigating and ultimately determining that these charges are justified. We remain hopeful that a strong case will be presented by the prosecutor, backed by verified and detailed forensic evidence, and that this will lead to a conviction. No charges can bring our Justine back. However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.”

Noor fatally shot Damond on July 15, 2017 while responding to her call of a possible sexual assault in progress.

According to the warrant, Officer Harrity told investigators that he heard a noise that startled him and Officer Noor. Harrity said he perceived that his life was in danger and unholstered his gun, holding it to his rib cage, pointing it downward. He told investigators Damond approached their squad car from the rear driver’s side then saw Officer Noor with his right arm extended. Harrity looked out the window and saw a woman, later identified as Damond, put her hands on a gunshot wound on the left side of her abdomen and say, “I’m dying” or “I’m dead,” the warrant states.

She was pronounced dead on the scene.

The death of the popular neighborhood organizer and activist triggered anger and action across the community, eventually leading to the resignation of Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau. On Tuesday, Harteau posted a statement on Twitter regarding the charges against Noor.

“Justine Damond’s family deserves answers and they deserve justice. As I originally stated Justine didn’t have to die,” Harteau tweeted. “This tragedy was the result of the actions of one officer, of which we still don’t know why. I ask people to continue to support the officers that provide selfless and honorable service every day to the citizens of Minneapolis.”

While Officer Harrity cooperated with BCA investigators in the wake of Damond’s death, Noor refused to share his side of the story, and was not compelled to by law.

In September, the BCA turned its investigation over to Freeman’s office for consideration of criminal charges against Noor. The county attorney promised a decision by the end of 2017 but it did not come. In December, a cell phone video was released of Freeman at a holiday party, with activists asking him why Noor had not been charged yet. Freeman said that he didn’t have enough evidence to charge Noor, blaming investigators who “haven’t done their job.” The interaction was recorded without Freeman’s knowledge and was posted extensively on social media.

In late January, Damond family attorney Bob Bennett told KARE 11 that a grand jury had been called to hear testimony in the case, a development the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office would not confirm, citing the secrecy of the proceedings.

That testimony began in February, with more than 30 Minneapolis police officers subpoenaed to testify, including Officer Mohamed Noor’s partner, Officer Harrity.

Officer Noor was hired by the Minneapolis Police Department on March 23, 2015 and had no prior law enforcement experience. He completed training at the Minneapolis PD Academy and was trained in numerous scenarios, intended to teach officers how to identify a threat, if any, before shooting.

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