A freelance journalist was kidnapped and held in Somalia for nearly three years with a $20 million ransom by Somali-born U.S. citizen, Abdi Y. Hassan. Federal investigators say Hassan is part of an operation of Somali pirates.
Hassan, age 51, was born in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and arrested last Friday in Minneapolis accused of holding three people hostage on the coast of Somalia. Hassan was charged in federal court in New York with six felony counts that range from kidnapping to hostage-taking and illegal use of firearms, according to the Star Tribune.
The journalist held captive was not named on any court documents.
“According to the criminal complaint, Hassan and other heavily armed captors abducted the journalist on Jan. 21, 2012, from a vehicle in the northern Somali city of Galkayo. One or more of the men hit their victim in the head and body with guns.
During the course of the journalist’s captivity, a dozen men armed with AK-47 rifles and belt-fed machine guns guarded him as he was moved to various locations. Two other foreign hostages, both non-Somali, were abducted from a fishing vessel off the Somali coast by the same men and then released in November 2012.
Hassan, who appeared to the journalist to be a leader among the other armed guards, directed his hostage to make a phone call and encourage family to sell a residence to pay for his release. This was one of several such calls made to family, and some of them were recorded by the FBI, which also secured videos of the hostage speaking on camera.
Threats by the hostage-takers if the $20 million was not received included withholding food and water from the journalist. The gunmen also demanded a letter signed by a high-ranking U.S. official pledging that the kidnappers would not be held responsible for the abduction.
At one point, the family member was told that the situation had “gotten very serious” and that another hostage had been tortured in front of the journalist.
A three-day deadline was set for payment of the ransom; otherwise, the journalist told the family member, the captors would sell the journalist to al-Shabab, a jihadist fundamentalist group that in 2012 pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization al-Qaida.
One video showed the journalist with a prayer shawl over his head and surrounded by masked and armed kidnappers. The hostage was heard saying that his captors wanted the United States and another country to pay the ransom.”
CBS 4 Minnesota was in the courtroom and reported that Hassan claimed to have worked for the Minister of the Interior and Security for Galdmudug State in Somalia. CBS 4 reported that Hassan claims to have been in Somalia helping to arrange the release of an American hostage, and was not involved in any way with the kidnappings.
Hassan moved to Minnesota in 1998. It’s unclear why Hassan was currently residing in Minneapolis, but the nation’s largest Somali community just so happens to be in Minnesota.
Hassan does have a criminal record in Minnesota, but most charges were for misdemeanor traffic violations between 2005 and 2010, where during that time he was listed as having addresses in both Eden Prairie and Minneapolis, the Star Tribune reported.
A Minnesota judge decided to continue to keep Hassan detained there until the hearing, where he will then be escorted to New York to stand trial.