WASHINGTON: The FBI said Sunday it was investigating a stabbing spree at a Minnesota mall as a “potential act of terrorism,” as local media identified the suspect as a 22-year-old Somali-American.
Nine people were wounded Saturday in the attack in the city of St. Cloud before an off-duty policeman shot and killed the attacker. A news agency with ties to the Islamic State group said the rampage was carried out by one of its “soldiers.”
Police in St. Cloud confirmed that the assailant — who has not been formally identified — had asked some victims whether they were Muslim before stabbing them and made “some references to Allah” before launching his attacks.
Two local newspapers — the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Cloud Times — identified the suspect as Dahir Adan.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, which interviewed Adan’s father, said he was a student at a local college, and was working part-time as a private security guard.
Adan was born in Africa but had lived in the United States for 15 years, his father told the newspaper, adding that he had “no suspicion” that his son was involved in any extremist activity.
But the jihadist-linked Amaq news agency said Sunday that the “executor of the stabbing attacks… was a soldier of the Islamic State.”
IS has repeatedly called for lone-wolf attacks on countries in the US-led coalition targeting the jihadist group with air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
“We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism,” the FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Rick Thornton, told reporters.
But he said it was not yet known whether the suspect had any connections with — or was inspired by — a “foreign terrorist organization.”
Nor is there “any evidence” at this point of a link between a bombing in New York on Saturday that left 29 people injured and the Minnesota attack, St. Cloud police chief William Blair Anderson told CNN.
Leaders of the local Somali-American community issued a statement of sympathy for the family and the victims of the attack, the St. Cloud Times reported.
About 25,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area — some 70 miles (110 kilometers) to the southeast of St. Cloud — has the country’s largest concentration of Somalis.
The Somali-American community there has struggled for years with the draw of extremism for some of its young people.
Several of them have traveled to Africa to join the Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab group after Ethiopia invaded Somalia, and six were arrested last year while attempting to join the Islamic State group in Syria.
On Sunday, new details of Saturday’s St. Cloud stabbings emerged.
Early reports had said that eight people were stabbed. Anderson said, however, that a ninth victim left the scene on his own and was treated at a nearby hospital.
Three people remained hospitalized Sunday, said Mayor Dave Kleis, who said the victims included seven men and two women, aged 15 to 53.
Anderson said the armed suspect had entered the Crossroads Center mall wearing a private security uniform and carrying at least one knife.
The attacker was confronted inside a store by an off-duty police officer identified by Kleis as Jason Falconer, who works part-time for police in the nearby small town of Avon.
Kleis described a harrowing confrontation in which Falconer fired as “the suspect was lunging at him with a knife,” and added that even after being wounded, the suspect got back to his feet three times.
Falconer, Kleis said, was “clearly a hero.”
The suspect had a history of minor traffic violations, Anderson said, but “wasn’t under any surveillance by our agency.”
The St. Cloud mall was slated to reopen Monday.
The Minnesota attack came as 29 people were injured in a bomb blast in a busy New York neighborhood. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was an act of terror but there was currently no known link to international terror groups. AFP