Sources: FBI Investigating Woman Charged with Arson at St. Catherine

KSTP 5 News – by Jay Kolls

Multiple sources tell KSTP the FBI is now investigating a 19-year-old woman charged with first-degree arson after fires were started in six different buildings on Jan. 17 at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

Sources said the FBI became involved after several statements attributed to arson suspect Tnuza Hassan were included in a criminal complaint filed in district court by the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.

In the criminal complaint, investigators said Hassan told them “she wanted the school to burn to the ground and her intent was to hurt people.”  Investigators said there were 33 children at a daycare inside one of the buildings where a fire was intentionally set – and eight adults too.

The criminal complaint includes another statement from Hassan that said she started the fires because “this was the same thing that happened in ‘Muslim land’ and nobody cares if they got hurt.”

And investigators claim Hassan also said “you guys are lucky that I don’t know how to build a bomb, because I would have done that.”

Sources said FBI investigators are now combing through Hassan’s computers and other electronics to see if there is evidence that could lead to terror-related charges.

Bradford Colbert is a professor at Hamline-Mitchell Law School. He said it’s common for federal and state prosecutors to communicate with one another, and holding Hassan on state charges while the federal government investigates other possible crimes is a likely scenario.

“First she is charged, but is presumed innocent right now, and that is important to note,” Colbert said. “But if she is part of a larger network that calls into questions of national security, that’s when the federal government gets involved and that is appropriate.

“You could charge someone and she can stay in custody and they can continue to investigate. Where that investigation leads depends on several different things. And again, if it is just this one troubled person, then it will probably stay in the state system.”

Colbert said federal convictions are usually more punitive than state convictions, and sometimes state charges end up being dropped as a case moves forward on federal charges alone. He said it will take some time for federal investigators and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to determine what legal steps are next.

“If there are no federal charges, there is also a possibility that the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office could amend Hassan’s first-degree arson charge and add other charges such as homicide or other things,” Colbert said.

KSTP contacted Hassan’s attorney Patrick Nwaneri. But he declined comment other than to say “this case is still developing and we hope to be able to say more in the future.”

Ramsey County Attorney spokesperson Dennis Gerhardstein also declined comment “because it is an open an ongoing investigation.” But he added in an email that this case now “involves multiple law enforcement agencies and we will amend our complaint should any new evidence warrant it.”

A spokesperson for the FBI told KSTP the federal agency has a policy that it neither confirms nor denies the existence of any investigation.

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office said Hassan’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 28.

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