ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — One of the victims wounded in a stabbing at a central Minnesota mall says the man who carried out the attack showed no emotion and his eyes looked blank.
Ryan Schliep, one of 10 people who suffered wounds that were not life-threatening before the attacker was fatally shot, told WCCO-TV that the man “just walked right at me” before striking quickly and penetrating the skin of his scalp.
“He looked just blank in the eyes like he wasn’t even there,” Schliep said shortly before being released from a St. Cloud hospital.
Authorities are treating Saturday’s stabbings at Crossroads Center Mall as a possible act of terrorism, in part because an Islamic State-run news agency 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 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. St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said Monday the attack appeared to be the work of a single individual and there was no sign that the attacker, identified by his father as 20-year-old Dahir Adan, was radicalized or communicated with any terrorist group.
President Barack Obama said the stabbings had no apparent connection to weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey.
Because Adan was Somali, leaders of the state’s large Somali community acknowledged the prospect of a “long winter” for their people after the stabbings, but warned not to quickly accept the terrorism connection.
“We cannot give ISIS and other terrorist organizations more air time and propaganda without real facts,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter.
Little is known about Adan, who was identified Sunday by his father, Ahmed Adan. He had only a traffic ticket on his record, was apparently out of work after his job as a part-time security guard ended and hadn’t enrolled in college since the spring semester. Adan was wearing a security guard’s uniform during the attack.
A spokesman for the family, Abdi Wahid Osman, read from a statement expressing condolences for the injured and anyone else who was impacted.
“As we mourn the death of our son, Dahir Adnan, who was very dear to us, we are in deep shock as everyone else is in the state of Minnesota,” the statement said.
Federal officials released no new information Monday on the investigation into the stabbing, which was stopped by an off-duty police officer just minutes into it. FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton has said authorities were digging into Adan’s background and possible motives, looking at social media accounts and electronic devices and talking to people he knew.
Minnesota has the nation’s largest Somali population, an estimated 57,000 people. Both Anderson and Gov. Mark Dayton warned against a possible backlash due to the stabbings, especially in St. Cloud, where Somalis in the 65,000-resident city about 65 miles (104 km) northwest of Minneapolis have spoken about mistreatment in the past.
“I implore the citizens of St. Cloud and the citizens of Minnesota to rise above this incident and remember our common humanity,” Dayton said.
“It’s going to be tough times. We know it’s going to be a long winter for this community,” said Haji Yusuf, who is part of UniteCloud, a local group founded to tackle racial and ethnic tension in the city.
Last year, St. Cloud school officials met with Somali parents, community elders and students after Somali-American students walked out to protest their treatment. One student had said Somali-Americans were called Islamic State members and had their headscarves pulled off, and a photo posted on social media of a Somali-American student who was using a wheelchair after breaking her leg with a caption that said she was “disabled in ISIS.”
Five years earlier, CAIR’s Minnesota chapter asked for a federal civil rights investigation into allegations that Muslim students had been harassed at two St. Cloud high schools. A 2011 agreement resolved the case, but the U.S. Department of Education still was monitoring the case last year.
In 2013, CAIR called on police in nearby Waite Park to reject a training program about Somalis because a flier unfairly suggested the activities of al-Shabab — a militant group in east Africa that has had success in recruiting Somali-Americans in Minnesota — are supported by most Muslims.
If the stabbings are ultimately deemed a terrorist act, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on U.S. soil.
Adan was employed by the security firm Securitas, and was assigned for a few months to an Electrolux factory near the mall, Electrolux spokeswoman Eloise Hale said. His father, speaking through an interpreter, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was 22, but court records and a driver’s license database showed his age as 20.
A spokesman for St. Cloud State University confirmed that Adan was a student majoring in information systems, but hadn’t enrolled since the spring semester.
Yusuf, who has spoken with Adan’s parents, said Adan went to the mall to pick up an iPhone. Yusuf said Adan seemed happy when left the home, which was the last time his parents saw him.
A person at the T-Mobile store where Yusuf said Adan had gone declined to comment or take a message for his supervisor.
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.
Avon Police Chief Corey Nellis said Monday that Falconer owns a firing range and is the city’s firearms instructor. “If I was going to ask anybody to fire … live rounds in a crowded mall, I would trust his abilities next to anybody’s,” Nellis said.
The mall reopened Monday after being closed Sunday.
Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and John Mone contributed to this report from St. Cloud, Minnesota, and Jeff Baenen contributed from Minneapolis.