Knife-wielding attacker shot dead in Minnesota mall after injuring 9
FBI official said Sunday the attack is being investigated as a possible act of terrorism
A knife-wielding suspect dressed in a private security uniform made references to Allah while attacking at least nine people during a mass stabbing incident at a Minnesota shopping mall, authorities said. He was shot dead by an off-duty police officer.
At a news conference Sunday, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton said the attack was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism and that agents were still digging into the attacker's background and possible motives. Authorities were looking at social media accounts and the attacker's electronic devices and talking to his associates, Thornton said.
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An Islamic State-run news agency, Rasd, claimed Sunday that the attacker was a "soldier of the Islamic State" who had heeded the group's calls for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-IS coalition.
It was not immediately clear if the extremist group had planned the attack or even knew about it beforehand. IS has encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks. It has also claimed past attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership.
St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson said during a news conference that eight people were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the attack first reported about 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the Crossroads Center in St. Cloud, about 112 kilometres northwest of Minneapolis.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said Sunday a ninth person took themselves to a hospital and was treated and released.
Three of the victims remain hospitalized. The victims were male and female, Kleis said, and ranged in age from a 15-year-old to mid-50s.
Authorities didn't identify the attacker, but the Star Tribune of Minneapolis said the man's father identified him as Dahir A. Adan, 22. Speaking to the newspaper through an interpreter, Ahmed Adan, whose family is Somali, said his son was born in Africa and had lived in the U.S. for 15 years.
Ahmed Adan said police told him around 9 p.m. Saturday that his son had died at the mall, and that police had raided the family's apartment, seizing photos and other materials. He said police said nothing to him about the mall attack, and that he had "no suspicion" that his son had been involved in terrorist activity, the newspaper reported.
Anderson said the attacker, who was armed with a knife and wearing a private security firm uniform at the time of the attack, was shot and killed by Jason Falconer.
Falconer, who was shopping when he confronted the attacker, is the former police chief in Albany, which is about 25 kilometres northwest of St. Cloud, and the president and owner of a firing range and firearms training facility, according to his LinkedIn profile. His profile says he focuses on firearms and permit-to-carry training, and also teaches "decision shooting" to law enforcement students at St. Cloud State University.
"He clearly prevented additional injuries and potential loss of life," Anderson said. "Officer Falconer was there at the right time and the right place," he said.
Harley and Tama Exsted, of Isle, were in St. Cloud to watch their son play in a college golf tournament and were in the mall when the attack happened.
"All of a sudden I heard pop, pop, pop," Harley Exsted told the St. Cloud Times. "I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way."
Somali-American leaders condemn attack
Anderson also said the suspect made at least one reference to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim.
Authorities "have no reason to believe" anyone else was involved in the attacks, Anderson said. He said the stabbings occurred in several places within the mall, including corridors, businesses and common areas.
Leaders of the Somali community in central Minnesota united to condemn the stabbings. They said the suspect does not represent the larger Somali community, and they expressed fear about backlash over the attack.
Minnesota has the nation's largest Somali community, with census numbers placing the population at about 40,000. But community activists say the population — most of it in the Minneapolis area — is much higher. The immigrant community has been a target for terror recruiters in recent years. More than 20 young men have left the state since 2007 to join al-Shabaab in Somalia, and roughly a dozen people have left in recent years to join militants in Syria. In addition, nine Minnesota men face sentencing on terror charges for plotting to join the Islamic State group.
While the motive in Saturday's stabbings isn't yet known, if it turns out to be a terrorist attack, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on U.S. soil, said Karen Greenburg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law.
The attack happened on the same evening that 29 people were injured in a New York City explosion. Earlier in the day, a pipe bomb exploded in a New Jersey beach town, but no injuries were reported in what authorities believe was a deliberate attack.
With files from Reuters