Once believed dead or captured, former Mpls. student turned jihadi recruiter resurfaces online
A former Minneapolis high school student who became a prolific jihadi recruiter has resurfaced online after months of silence, dispelling rumors that he had been killed or captured, according to a new report.
Two Twitter accounts linked to sympathizers of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant tweeted this week that Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan was alive and that his return to Twitter was “imminent,” said the report released Friday by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington, D.C., group that monitors jihadi propaganda.
Hassan, who has been connected to a group of Twin Cities men recently charged with trying to join ISIL, was among the second wave of local men of East African descent who joined the extremist group Al-Shabab. He was later indicted on a charge of conspiracy to support terrorism, landing him a place on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists from Minnesota.
Before his Twitter account went dark, Hassan — whose online moniker was Mujahid Miski — often posted ISIL propaganda, while calling on affiliates to carry out so-called “lone wolf-style” attacks against the West. An Islamic State “guidebook” published earlier this year listed Hassan as one of 19 “useful Twitter contacts” who could help would-be jihadis make their way to ISIL-controlled territory in Syria.
When he abruptly stopped tweeting in June, speculation grew that he was dead or had been captured.
In August, another ISIL supporter suggested that Hassan had been martyred. Others speculated that he had been punished for his vocal support of ISIL, which until recently had been at odds with elements of Al-Shabab, Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Somalia.
The MEMRI report seemed to back that theory.
“Yes he made this account when the Harakah [Al-Shabab] banned him from going on as ‘Mujahid Miski’ because he supported ISIS,” another ISIL supporter is quoted as posting.
An account believed to belong to Hassan sprang up in late September, urging others to “Follow, Retweet and Support Insha Allah.”
Authorities have not commented on his prolonged online absence, but in a search warrant filed in federal court in August said that he “remains a fugitive from justice.”
His name was known to few outside intelligence circles until this spring.
A series of tweets between Hassan and Elton Simpson — an Arizona man who was killed in May after opening fire at a controversial contest of cartoonists depicting the prophet Mohammed — highlighted the frustrations felt by U.S. intelligence officials trying to keep up with jihadi recruiters online.
Security analysts argue that online provocateurs like Hassan, who once boasted of having had his Twitter account suspended more than 30 times, create dozens of usernames to evade censorship.
Hassan was also thought to have communicated with ISIL sympathizers in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New York City, several of whom were linked to foiled lone wolf plots.
Hassan, who left Minneapolis when he was in his senior year at Roosevelt High School, was previously thought to have been killed in Mogadishu, according to a 2009 House report. While in Somalia, he joined a group of fighters that included several other Minnesota men, one of whom was his cousin, according to community leaders and court documents.
Ben Petok, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the latest report.