WASHINGTON - A former U.S. resident arrested in Somalia has confirmed he belonged to militant group al-Shabab but is denying alleged links to Islamic State.
Mohamed Abdullahi Hassan spoke by phone to VOA's Somali Service on Tuesday, a day after the U.S. State Department said he is in custody of the Somali National Intelligence and Security Agency in Mogadishu.
Hassan, also known as "Miski", says he worked for al-Shabab in the media and preaching departments. But it's his presence on social media that has gained widespread attention. Through his Twitter account, Hassan allegedly defended Islamic State, praised the Charlie Hebdo attackers in France and urged people to carry out attacks in the United States.
Authorities in the U.S. have said they are investigating whether Hassan had contact with the husband and wife who killed 14 people in San Bernadino, California last week.
In the interview, Hassan says he had no contact with the San Bernadino shooters and denied being a member of IS, though he acknowledged voicing support for the group.
He says he belonged to al-Shabab for several years but left in 2013 because the al-Qaida-linked group was unjustly imprisoning, torturing and killing people.
Hassan says that last month, al-Shabab members raided his home, blindfolded and terrorized his family. He says he escaped and was walking in the forest two weeks ago, near the southern town of Barawe, when villagers spotted him and informed government forces, who arrested him.
Al-Shabab has become increasingly divided over whether should remain allied with al-Qaida or realign with Islamic State. Several members who voiced support of IS have been attacked and killed.
From Minnesota to Somalia
Hassan, who is believed to be 27 years old, was born in Somalia but spent part of his life in Minnesota, the state where the U.S. government settled thousands of Somali refugees and immigrants in the 1990s. The State Department says he is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. but not a citizen.
Hassan says he left Minnesota in August 2008 because of the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia.
In 2010, he was one of 14 people charged by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly giving support to al-Shabab, which the U.S. government has designated as a terrorist organization.
Hassan faces specific charges of providing material support to terrorists; conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure people abroad; using a firearm in a crime of violence; and soliciting others to commit a crime of violence. He remains wanted by the FBI.
Hassan tells VOA that he has "no intention of coming back" to the United States.
However, the State Department said U.S. officials are discussing his case with the Somali government. The U.S. does not have an extradition agreement with Somalia.