By LEO HOHMANN
A young woman of East African descent was arraigned in court Friday on charges of first-degree arson after she allegedly set a series of fires on the campus of St. Catherine University in retaliation for U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tnuza Jamal Hassan, 19, is a former student at the school and a resident of Minneapolis, home to a large community of refugees from East Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia.
She reportedly told police she “wanted the school to burn to the ground” and that her intent was to “hurt people,” according to the complaint charging her with one count of felony first-degree arson filed in Ramsey County District Court.
“Hassan said this was the same thing that happened in the ‘Muslim land’ and nobody cares if they get hurt, so why not do this?” according to the complaint.
The prosecution further alleges that “…She told the police and fire investigators [sic] ‘You guys are lucky that I don’t know how to build a bomb because I would have done that,’” the Star-Tribune reported.
Police in Minneapolis did not release her immigration status.
No injuries were reported in the fires, which began about 11:40 a.m. with the first blaze, and ended about 2 p.m. with Hassan’s arrest on campus.
Hassan made her first appearance in court Friday afternoon. Her bail was set at $100,000. She was also ordered to stay away from the campus and surrender her passport.
Defendant appears before judge in makeshift burqa
Hassan wore an orange jumpsuit under an apparent makeshift burqa consisting of a black face covering. Only her eyes were exposed, and a large white sheet was draped over her head. She spoke two words during the brief hearing, answering, “Yes, yes,” when Ramsey County District Court Judge Sophia Vuelo asked if she was the defendant in the case.
“There’s a clear intent to harm or kill people here,” Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Margaret Galvin said in arguing for $100,000 bail and the other conditions.
Galvin said authorities are investigating possible international ties to Hassan.
Hassan’s attorney, Patrick Nwaneri, asked for $5,000 bail, noting that his client had no criminal record. Vuelo rejected the request, saying Hassan was a clear threat to public safety.
Court documents gave this account of Hassan’s alleged activities and motives:
“She said she had been a student at Saint Catherine’s but quit last fall because she and her family were planning to vacation in Ethiopia,” the complaint said. “Hassan said she started the fires because she’s been reading about the U.S. military destroying schools in Iraq and Afghanistan and she felt that she should do exactly the same thing.
“She said that her fire-starting was not as successful as she had wanted. She said the most successful fire she set was at Saint Mary’s where she set a couch on fire.”
Books, toilet paper and sanitary napkins were among the objects set on fire, St. Paul fire assistant chief Mike Gaede and Sara Berhow, a university spokeswoman, told the Star-Tribune.
The criminal complaint noted there were four “intentional fires” and that Hassan allegedly admitted to starting eight fires in six buildings. All but one occurred in garbage cans.
The complaint said 33 children and eight adults were at a daycare in one of the buildings at the time the fires were set. Ten to 15 students were also evacuated from the building.
Letter speaks of ‘radical ideas’
Hassan allegedly told police she had written a letter to her roommates containing “radical ideas about supporting Muslims and bringing back the caliphate,” the complaint said.
Over the last 10 years Minnesota has been by far the top resettlement state for Ethiopians, according to data online at the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center.
The letter frightened her roommates, who provided it to campus security.
‘All faiths’ welcome at Catholic university
St. Catherine’s bills itself as a private, Catholic, liberal arts university with campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But students don’t have to be Catholic to attend, and the school prides itself on its commitment to diversity and “social justice.” Muslims students are welcome, despite Islam’s rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
A page on the university website describes the school chapel as follows:
“Welcoming those of all faiths, the Chapel is our most cherished space for sacred ritual, prayer and reflection.”
The university website features a photo of a group of graduates, one of whom is a female wearing a red hijab.
“We are shocked and saddened by the reported statements made by a former student, Tnuza Hassan, regarding her motives for starting fires on campus earlier this week,” said a statement from St. Catherine University President ReBecca Koening Roloff posted on the school’s website.
Court records show no history for Hassan. She was a St. Paul Public Schools student, first enrolling in the district in 2010 at Highland Park Junior High. She graduated from Johnson Senior High in 2016, according to the school district.
Leo Hohmann is a journalist and author of the 2017 book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad.” Donate to this website and help support his investigative reporting on topics most journalists are afraid to touch.