Update - 6/17/2015: Two additional U.S. residents have been linked with Hassan since this blog was first posted: Nicholas Rovinski of Rhode Island, arrested 6/12/2015 for providing material support to terror and his role in a Boston-area attack plot and Munther Omar Saleh of New York, arrested 6/16/2015 for providing material support for terror and a New York attack plot, both reportedly directed messages to Hassan on Twitter.
Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan, who authorities believe may have interacted with the Garland shooters, may have inspired as many as 11 people living in the U.S. to take action in the last two years.
Hassan is a permanent U.S. resident who was indicted in 2009 for travelling to Somalia to join Al Shabaab. He is believed to have communicated with Americans through his extensive social media networks, on which he is known as Mujahid Miski or Muhammad Miski. He has actively supported and promoted terrorist propaganda on Facebook, on the social media question and answer site Ask.FM, and on over 30 Twitter accounts.
Prior to the May 3 shooting in Garland, Texas, Hassan reportedly interacted on Twitter with one of the alleged shooters, Elton Simpson. In April, Simpson asked Hassan to follow his Twitter account so the two could privately exchange messages. Then, on April 23, Hassan wrote a tweet urging attacks against the event at the community center that stated, “The brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attack did their part. It’s time for brothers in the #US to do their part.” Later that day, Simpson tweeted at Hassan, “When will they ever learn. They are planning on selecting the best picture drawn of Rasulullah (Muhammad)… in Texas.” Hassan retweeted the tweet.
Notably, Simpson allegedly sought to travel to Somalia to join Al Shabaab in 2009 – one year after Hassan did. It is unknown if the two knew each other in the U.S. Hassan has also interacted online with several other Americans facing terrorism charges, including Abdi Nur, who allegedly traveled to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014. According to court documents, Hassan communicated with Nur on Facebook, asking Nur, “us brothers from mpls (Minneapolis) wanted to know how many you guys are back there in Sham (Syria),” to which Nur responded, “only three of us. The others there are still workin making hijrah (moving abroad).”
The Facebook conversations between Nur and Hassan also indicated that the two may have known each other when they lived in the U.S. Nur asked Hassan to “send [a mutual friend] my salams (greetings) akhi (brother)…please remind him that the salams came from abdiyare [Nur] that you went to southwest [high school] with.” Nur was indicted together with Minnesota resident Abdullah Yusuf in 2014. In 2015, six additional Minnesota residents were charged as part of the same conspiracy to travel to join ISIS.
A third American, Douglas McAuthur McCain, is alleged to have had contact with Hassan as well. McCain died fighting with ISIS in August 2014. Following McCain’s death, Hassan retweeted multiple statements from McCain’s Twitter profile, @iamthetooth, and wrote, ““The Hardest thing in Jihad is when a brother u love is granted Shahadah [martyrdom]. Today im experiencing those feelings. May Allah accept @iamthetooth.”
Hassan regularly interacts with many other unidentified individuals online and is well known in extremist social media circles. Despite his reported membership in Al Shabaab, he advocates for his contacts to join ISIS if possible, although he has tweeted both Al Shabaab and ISIS propaganda too. On January 29, 2014, he wrote, "My Heart is in Sham [Syria], my eyes are in Aqsa [Jerusalem] and My Soul is in Somalia."
Hassan’s account on Ask.FM, an anonymous question and answer service, is illustrative of the support he provided for English-speakers to join terrorist organizations. For example, one individual on the site asked, “My brother wants to be a mujahid (fighter) but he’s got glasses. Will that stop him from becoming one?” Hassan responded, “He can be a Mujahid and still wear glasses…And don’t worry about loosing (sic) them or braking (sic) them because if you do insha Allah (God willing) you’ll have a new one made for you.” Another individual asked, “What does your last answer mean? Where you said ‘Don’t waste time and try to be one of the builders of the Islamic khilaafah (Caliphate).’” Hassan responded, “It basically means every minute and ever second is wasted if you’re not out there building the Islamic Caliphate. Go out and make hijrah (travel) from the east and west and join the Jihad. Let your blood be the water for the tree of Khilaafah.”
Hassan grew up in Minnesota and attended Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. He is believed to have traveled to Somalia in 2008 and is reportedly still a member of Al Shabaab.