FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday that the Minnesota man who stabbed 10 people inside a St. Cloud shopping mall earlier this month was inspired in some way by a foreign terrorist group.
"It does look like at least in part [Dahir Adan] was motivated by some sort of inspiration from radical Islamic groups," Comey told the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. "Which groups, and how, we're not sure of yet."
Within hours of Adan's Sept. 17 attack at the Crossroads Center mall in St. Cloud, an arm of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed credit for the violence, using language nearly identical to claims in previous attacks.
But Comey said the claim alone was not enough for the FBI to link Adan's actions to ISIL.
"They claim responsibility for any savagery they can get their name on," he said.
Comey said the FBI is analyzing Adan's "entire electronic record and history of all of his associations" to try to learn more about the motivation behind his attack.
A spokesman for the Minneapolis office of the FBI declined to comment further because the case remains "a very active investigation."
Adan, 20, was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer during the rampage. During the attack, Adan referred to Allah and asked at least one victim whether they were Muslim, according to St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson.
Comey's update marked the third time in two days that top federal officials in Washington mentioned the Adan probe. On Tuesday, Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson grouped the St. Cloud attack with this month's bombings in New York and New Jersey, and attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, as examples of new terror threats.
"We have moved from a world of terrorist-directed attacks to a world that also includes the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks … and terrorist-enabled attacks — those who are provided general guidance, such as potential targets, often in online conversations with terrorists overseas," Johnson said.
Johnson joined Comey and Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Rasmussen called the St. Cloud stabbings an example of culprits opting for "relatively simple attack methods," sometimes using "readily available instructions on the internet or propagated by terrorist organizations."
While Rasmussen said he expected homegrown extremists to keep eyeing traditional targets like military personnel and law enforcement, the St. Cloud attack also demonstrated plots against "softer civilian targets."
Comey's remarks on the St. Cloud investigation were prompted by questions from Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who cited a 2015 House Homeland Security report that said Minnesota was the nation's top source of ISIL recruits.
Comey estimated that about eight Minnesotans had successfully joined ISIL in Syria. The FBI's largest ongoing terror investigation is taking place in Minnesota, with a probe of recruitment focused on the state's large Somali-American population. Nine Minnesota men face sentencing in November in that case, and two others have been charged in absentia.
Also on Wednesday, Comey praised the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota, which is leading a federal pilot project to counter radicalization, and said members of the Minnesota Somali community have been "very, very" helpful.
"They don't want their sons or daughters involved in this craziness any more than anybody else does," Comey said.
Federal officials in Minnesota have said they are still focused on stopping young recruits from traveling abroad to join terror groups. But in a June visit to the state, Comey told reporters that the FBI has noted a drop in the number of young would-be terrorists attempting to travel overseas, from up to 10 per month a year ago to now just one or two.