Minnesota mall stabbing’s potential terrorism raises fears

People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center mall between Macy's and Target as officials investigate a reported multiple stabbing incident, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in St. Cloud, Minn. Police said multiple people were injured at the St. Cloud shopping mall on Saturday evening in an attack possibly involving both shooting and stabbing. The suspect is believed to be dead, St. Cloud Police Sgt. Jason Burke told the St. Cloud Times. (Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)
People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center mall between Macy's and Target as officials investigate a reported multiple stabbing incident, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in St. Cloud, Minn. Police said multiple people were injured at the St. Cloud shopping mall on Saturday evening in an attack possibly involving both shooting and stabbing. The suspect is believed to be dead, St. Cloud Police Sgt. Jason Burke told the St. Cloud Times. (Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — 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 Somali man dressed as a private security guard entered the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud over the weekend 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 of Saturday’s attack is still unclear, but FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton has said it is being investigated as a “potential act of terrorism.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility, but it wasn’t clear whether the attacker was radicalized. Authorities were digging into his background and possible motives, looking at social media accounts and electronic devices and talking to his associates, Thornton said.

The attack in St. Cloud, a city of about 65,000 people, began shortly after an explosion in a crowded New York City neighborhood injured 29 people. Hours before that, a pipe bomb exploded in Seaside Park, New Jersey, before a 5K race. But President Barack Obama said Monday that authorities see no connection between the New York area explosions and the Minnesota stabbing.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton met with St. Cloud’s mayor and other local officials Monday morning. Beforehand, he said in a statement that Obama called him to express concern about the stabbing, as well as “convey his high regard for the work” by law enforcement officials and “deep appreciation for the heroism of the police officer who stopped the attacker.”

Leaders of Minnesota’s large Somali community have condemned the stabbings, saying the suspect — identified by his father as 22-year-old Dahir A. Adan — does not represent them and expressing fear of backlash.

St. Cloud Mayor David Kleis said an attack like Saturday’s is the type of worry that keeps him “up at night.”

Experts say that if Saturday’s stabbings are ultimately deemed a terrorist act, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on U.S. soil. An Islamic State-run news agency 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, but it wasn’t immediately known whether the extremist group had planned the attack or knew about it beforehand.

It doesn’t appear anyone else was involved in the attack, which began at about 8 p.m. and ended minutes later, Police Chief Blair Anderson said. Authorities haven’t identified the attacker, but his father, Ahmed Adan, told the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune his son’s name through an interpreter and local activists also identified Dahir Adan as Somali.

Ahmed Adan said his son was born in Kenya but was Somali and had lived in the U.S. for 15 years. He also said police told him about an hour after the attack that his son had died at the mall and that the family’s apartment had been searched, with photos and other materials seized. He said he had “no suspicion” that his son had been involved in terrorist activity, the newspaper reported.

Police had had three previous encounters with the attacker, mostly for minor traffic violations, Anderson said.

The man was an employee of the security firm Securitas and was assigned for a few months to an Electrolux facility; that assignment ended in June, Electrolux spokeswoman Eloise Hale said. A spokesman for St. Cloud State University confirmed that Adan was a student majoring in information systems, but hadn’t been enrolled since the spring semester.

Anderson said the man began attacking people right after entering the mall, stabbing people in several spots. The victims included seven men, one woman and a 15-year-old girl. All have been released.

Five minutes after authorities received the first 911 call, Jason Falconer, a part-time officer in the city of Avon who was there shopping, began shooting the attacker as he was lunging at him with the knife, Anderson said, and continued to engage him as the attacker got up three times. “He clearly prevented additional injuries and potential loss of life,” Anderson said.

The mall reopened Monday after being closed Sunday.

Sydney Weires, 18, and two of her friends saw a man who appeared to be a security guard sprinting down the hallway, and then two men stumbled out.

“One was covered in blood down his face,” she said, and the other man had blood on his back. “They were screaming, ‘Get out of the mall. Someone has a knife,’” Weires said.

Falconer is the former police chief in Albany, about 15 miles 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 teaches “decision shooting” to law enforcement students at St. Cloud State University.

No one answered the door Sunday at a home address listed for Falconer, and voicemail for a telephone listing was not accepting new messages. In a brief interview with the Star Tribune, Falconer said he had “been trying to stay away from it all, for the time being.”

___

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this report. Forliti reported from Minneapolis.

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