“You guys are lucky that l don’t know how to build a bomb because l would have done that.” So said Tnuza Jamal Hassan, a 19-year-old Muslim student who was arrested on January 17 for allegedly setting as many as eight fires on the campus of a Catholic university in Minneapolis. In statements to authorities, Hassan explained her actions by saying that she had “been reading about the U.S. military destroying schools in Iraq or Afghanistan and she felt that she should do exactly the same thing,” according to a criminal complaint filed on January 19.
However, when Hassan appeared in court, the woman wore black and white Muslim garb and gave but one-word answers to the presiding judge. Citing privacy issues, authorities would not comment as to Hassan's national origin or ethnic background.
Hassan’s family members have declined comment. Hassan’s attorney, Patrick Nwaneri, said that the alleged arson came as a “big shock” to the family. He declined further comment, but said of Hassan’s family, “They are just at a loss.”
"Hassan said she wanted the school to burn to the ground and that her intent was to hurt people," the complaint said. "Hassan said this was that same thing that happened in 'Muslim land' and nobody cares if they get hurt, so why not do this?"
Hassan, of Minneapolis, was studying English at St. Catherine's but was not currently enrolled. The complaint said Hassan withdrew because she and her family were planning to vacation in Ethiopia. According to the complaint, Hassan had written a letter to her roommates containing "radical ideas about supporting Muslims and bringing back the caliphate." Frightened by the letter, the roomates turned the letter over to campus security.
According to the complaint filed with the court, Hassan told law enforcement that she set six fires at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota. However, fire officials claim that there were eight fires. A serious fire was started in Saint Mary Hall, which is a residential dormitory that also has a daycare center for infants and young children. When a chair was set alight in a lounge area, according to police, there were 33 children and eight adults in the building at the time. Fortunately, the building’s sprinkler system was activated and prevented the conflagration from spreading. It was the largest fire reported. No injuries were reported.
Another fire was set in a women’s lavatory in the Butler Center fitness facility. When police looked at surveillance footage, they saw a woman entering both halls just before the sprinkler systems were activated. Later identified as Hassan, the woman in the video was carrying a plastic shopping bag, which police later discovered had a box of matches. Officers and firefighters rushed to the St. Paul campus at 11:40 a.m. on January 17, following a report of suspicious fires, according to police.
The fires were set mostly in women’s lavatories, and all but one of the fires were started in trash cans, according to St. Paul Assistant Fire Chief Mike Gaede. “That, by far, did the most damage to the building and the area,” Gaede said. St. Paul’s fire department is investigating, while the university issued a statement saying that the extent of the damage is being determined, but indicated it was not major.
Hassan is being held on multiple arson charges. Bail was set at $100,000. She is being held in the Ramsey County lockup.
Besides the fire in Derham Hall, fires were quickly put out in Our Lady of Victory Chapel; Fontbonne and Mendel halls, which are classroom buildings; Butler Center, the fitness facility; St. Mary Hall, a dorm; and Coeur de Catherine, the student center, according to the university. Two of the fires were set in Coeur de Catherine.
Hassan is a former student of St. Catherine University -- a Catholic educational institution for women.
After reviewing surveillance footage, at about 1:30 p.m., the suspect was found in a lounge in Crandall Hall, a dorm. Hassan was removed from campus at 2:35 p.m. and police arrested her on suspicion of first-degree arson.
Hassan, of Minneapolis, was a St. Kate’s student during the fall semester, but was not enrolled for January term or the spring semester.