This guy was about as well-vetted as Ilhan Omar. Hence Minneapolis’ Somali community became the terrorist recruitment capital of the U.S.
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Twin Cities man has been indicted for allegedly helping co-conspirators hold a journalist captive for more than two years.
Abdi Yusuf Hassan, who moved to Minnesota in 1998, is accused of holding three people hostage on the coast of Somalia.
The journalist involved is not named in court papers, but writer Michael Scott Moore gave CBS an account of his capture that lines up exactly with the dramatic story that unfolded Thursday in the Minneapolis federal courthouse. WCCO-TV was the only station in court.
On a crisp winter day, dozens from one of Minnesota’s strongest immigrant communities stood together to stand behind Abdi Yusuf Hassan, filing into the Minneapolis courthouse.
A loved one told WCCO-TV, “He’s innocent, completely innocent.”
But federal investigators say he is not. They say he is a part of an operation of Somali pirates. Journalist Michael Scott Moore was held captive from 2012 to 2014 until a ransom was paid.
“The kidnappers here, will sell me, will sell me to Al Shabaab,” Moore said in one of the videos he was forced to make while kidnapped.
His captors demanded millions from his family and the U.S. government.
“It’s a brutal, brutal experience. They treat people like cattle and they feed you just enough to keep people alive,” Moore said in a CNN interview. “I was beaten, I was slugged, I was beaten several times for sure.”
Federal papers show the captured journalist identified Hassan as one of the leaders of the operation. According to the indictment, Hassan speaks English and served as a translator for the hostage-takers and regularly communicated with the journalist.
Community activist Omar Jamal testified in court Thursday on behalf of his friend.
“He was in no way, shape or form that he was involved. Having known him for 20 years, the kind of guy he is, I don’t think so,” Jamal said.
He says Hassan has been working in Somalia the past few years to help rebuild the government, and that Hassan was simply helping translate negotiations with the journalist’s kidnappers, trying to help.
Hassan claimed to have worked for the Minister of the Interior and Security for Galmudug State in Somalia. He said a major part of that job was to arrange for the release of a kidnapped person in Galmudug. He stated he was involved in arranging for the release of an American hostage, and identified the journalist by his middle name.
“I don’t think he was involved in this. We’ll let the system take its course, but he just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Jamal said.
This case will now be heard in New York. A Minnesota judge decided today Hassan will be detained here and then escorted to that hearing in New York.
Hassan was born in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. He was arrested last Friday in Minneapolis and will be returned to New York for further court proceedings.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said late Thursday afternoon that he did not know where in the United States Hassan currently resides or why he was in Minneapolis when arrested. Minnesota is home to the nation’s largest Somali community.
Hassan’s criminal record in Minnesota appears limited to a handful of misdemeanor traffic violations between 2005 and 2010. During those years, he had listed addresses in Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. Property records show he resided there until as recently as 2015.
According to the criminal complaint, Hassan and other heavily armed captors abducted the journalist on Jan. 21, 2012, from a vehicle in the northern Somali city of Galkayo. One or more of the men hit their victim in the head and body with guns.
During the course of the journalist’s captivity, a dozen men armed with AK-47 rifles and belt-fed machine guns guarded him as he was moved to various locations. Two other foreign hostages, both non-Somali, were abducted from a fishing vessel off the Somali coast by the same men and then released in November 2012.
Hassan, who appeared to the journalist to be a leader among the other armed guards, directed his hostage to make a phone call and encourage family to sell a residence to pay for his release. This was one of several such calls made to family, and some of them were recorded by the FBI, which also secured videos of the hostage speaking on camera.
Threats by the hostage-takers if the $20 million was not received included withholding food and water from the journalist. The gunmen also demanded a letter signed by a high-ranking U.S. official pledging that the kidnappers would not be held responsible for the abduction.
At one point, the family member was told that the situation had “gotten very serious” and that another hostage had been tortured in front of the journalist.
A three-day deadline was set for payment of the ransom; otherwise, the journalist told the family member, the captors would sell the journalist to al-Shabab, a jihadist fundamentalist group that in 2012 pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization al-Qaida.
One video showed the journalist with a prayer shawl over his head and surrounded by masked and armed kidnappers. The hostage was heard saying that his captors wanted the United States and another country to pay the ransom.
Hassan arrived in the United States in September 2015. In an interview with a U.S. customs officer, he said he worked as a security minister for Galmudug state in Somalia, which includes Galkayo. He said a major part of his duties was arranging for the release of the journalist.