ST. CLOUD – In a few bloody minutes, a man rampaged through a St. Cloud shopping mall Saturday evening, stabbing 10 people before being fatally shot by an off-duty police officer. The violence is being investigated as terrorism, federal authorities said.
None of the victims, mostly men who ranged in age from 15 to 53, was killed in the attack. Sunday's tally was nine victims. Authorities nudged that total to 10 on Monday.
In a media briefing after midnight Sunday, St. Cloud Police Chief William Anderson said an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction confronted and shot the suspect Saturday night inside Crossroads Center mall. He said the man — dressed in a private security uniform — reportedly asked at least one victim whether they were Muslim before assaulting them, and referred to Allah during the attacks.
“We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism,” said the FBI’s Richard Thornton, speaking at a news conference at police headquarters early Sunday afternoon. Thornton did not link the attack to a specific terror group.
Roughly 12 hours after the stabbings, a news agency said to speak for ISIL went to Twitter to claim credit for the mall violence. “The executor of the stabbing attacks in Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to the citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition,” the posting by the AMAQ news agency read.
“We don’t know if the suspect was in contact with or inspired by foreign terrorist organizations,” Thornton said.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is looking at the suspect’s social media and other contacts that could shed light on the assailant’s motivation, Thornton said.
While law enforcement has not disclosed the suspect’s name, his father identified him as Dahir A. Adan, 22. Interviewed Sunday through a translator at his apartment in St. Cloud, Ahmed Adan said his son was born in Kenya but grew up in the United States. Other family members said Dahir Adan was beginning his third year as a student at St. Cloud State University.
Police told Ahmed Adan about 9 p.m. Saturday that his son had died at the mall, he said. He had “no suspicion” of his son being involved in any terrorist activity, he added. Police raided the apartment on St. Germain Street on Sunday morning and seized photos and other materials, Ahmed Adan said.
Police executed search warrants for two apartments, including the one where Adan lived with his father, Anderson said. They also impounded the assailant’s car from the mall parking lot.
Inside the building where the Adans lived, a neighbor said the younger Adan sometimes wore a security guard uniform. A cousin down the hall in the same building described Dahir Adan as a good person who minded his own business.
At the news conference Sunday, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said three of the stabbing victims remained hospitalized as of 7 a.m.
The officer who killed the suspect was identified as Jason Falconer, a former police chief in nearby Albany.
“The officer’s life was clearly in danger,” Kleis said, pointing to surveillance video that shows the officer shooting and the suspect falling and getting back up three times, at one point lunging toward Falconer.
Falconer owns Tactical Advantage and Tactical Firearms Training in Waite Park. His professional biography says he “specializes in reality-based firearms, law enforcement and personal security training.”
Reached by phone Sunday afternoon, Falconer said, “I’ve been trying to stay away from it all, for the time being.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director in Minnesota of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Sunday that “we are definitely concerned about the potential for backlash in the community, both in the immediate run and the longer term.”
Hussein called the attack “an isolated incident, and we still don’t know the full facts.”
Ahmed Said, executive director of the Somali American Relations Council, said they don’t know whether religion motivated Adan, “but we know he is a Somali.”
“Let us not rush and jump into conclusions,” Said said in a statement. “… We strongly stress that everybody calms down and focus on what unites us than what divides us in these difficult times.”
Barakad Omar, a classmate of Dahir Adan at Apollo High School, said he was “a good kid” and an A student.
He was more into sports than religion, said Jama Alimad, a community leader and close friend of the family, who described him as “the most assimilated kid in the neighborhood.”
Until June, Adan had worked on a contract basis as a weekend security guard at Electrolux Home Products in St. Cloud, said Electrolux spokeswoman Eloise Hale.
The rampage began when Adan entered through the Sears in the mall’s southeast side; Adan was shot at the north end of the mall, inside Macy’s, according to Kleis. Those stabbed were attacked about 8:15 p.m. in corridors and common areas, authorities said.
Harley Exsted and his wife, Tama, of Isle, Minn., entered Macy’s at 8 p.m. and soon after heard a popping sound. A group of kids started running toward the mall’s exit. The Exsteds joined a crowd that was fleeing, including a man frantically pushing a baby stroller. As they left Macy’s they heard four more gunshots. “We were terrified,” Harley Exsted said. “We were pretty shook up. We figured we dodged one there.”
Crossroads Center was closed Sunday but will reopen Monday, said Kevin Berry, spokesman for the Chicago-based company that operates the mall.
The mall attack got national exposure when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton mentioned it, saying she’d been briefed about the incident as well as suspicious explosions Saturday in New York and New Jersey, according to the Associated Press.
Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “appalled at the terrible attacks on innocent Minnesotans in St. Cloud last night. If true that they were motivated by religious bigotry, I condemn them even more strongly. … I ask everyone in the St. Cloud area and throughout Minnesota to rise above this atrocity and act to make religious and racial tolerance one of the ways in which Minnesotans again lead our country.”
Dayton said he will visit St. Cloud on Monday to show his support for officials and citizens there.
At the Mall of America in Bloomington, one of the world’s largest shopping malls and often mentioned as a possible terror target, officials said in a statement that “we have implemented additional police and security measures during this time.”
Tami Dung, who owns Nails Sophisticates at the St. Cloud mall, said she saw people flooding out of the center after her salon closed at 8 p.m. She was busy cleaning up when she saw police cars lining up outside the center. Only after she got home did she hear what had happened. “I was so scared to be too close.”
Sabrina Bender arrived with three of her children Sunday at the Crossroads Center. Bender had been shopping in the mall the day before with her children. She said she felt safe in St. Cloud until Saturday’s events.
“It is beyond scary,” she said. “My kids were here.”
“We will be diligent and get to the bottom of this,” Anderson said, adding that police had prior contact with the suspect, but only related to traffic stops.
For many years, St. Cloud has been home to one of the state’s larger immigrant Muslim populations. Tensions have spiked at times between Muslims and others in and around the central Minnesota city.
Staff writers Faiza Mahamud and Erin Adler contributed to this report.