Authorities are investigating the stabbings of nine people at a Minnesota mall as a potential act of terrorism — a finding that would realize long-held fears of an attack in the immigrant-rich state that has struggled to stop the recruiting of its young men by groups including the Islamic State.
A young Somalian man dressed as a private security guard on Saturday entered the Crossroads Center mall wielding what appeared to be a kitchen knife.
The city’s police chief said the man reportedly made at least one reference to Allah and asked a victim if he or she was Muslim before attacking.
The rampage ended when the man was shot dead by an off-duty police officer. None of the injured suffered life-threatening wounds.
The motive is still unclear, but FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton on Sunday said the stabbings were being investigated as a “potential act of terrorism,” and that the Islamic State group had claimed responsibility.
Authorities were digging into the attacker’s background and possible motives, looking at social media accounts, his electronic devices and talking to his associates, Thornton said.
It does not appear anyone else was involved in the attack, which began at around 8pm and was over within minutes, St Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said.
Leaders of the Somali community in central Minnesota united on Sunday to condemn the stabbings. They said the suspect — identified by his father as 22-year-old Dahir Adan — does not represent them, and they expressed fear about a backlash.
Minnesota has the US’ largest Somalian community, with census numbers placing the population at about 40,000, but community activists saying it is even higher.
The 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 about 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.
The possibility of an attack on US soil has been a major concern for law enforcement. Stopping the recruiting has been a high priority, with law enforcement investing countless hours in community outreach and the state participating in a federal project designed to combat radical messages.
If Saturday’s stabbings are ultimately deemed a terrorist act, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on US soil, said Karen Greenburg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law.
St Cloud Mayor David Kleis said an attack like Saturday’s is the type of worry that keeps him “up at night.”
An Islamic State-run news agency, Rasd, on Sunday claimed 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 US-led anti-Islamic State coalition.
It was not immediately clear if the group had planned the attack or even knew about it beforehand.
The Islamic State 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.
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