FBI Investigating Stabbing Attack in Minnesota Mall as 'Potential Act of Terrorism'

PHOTO: People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Sept. 17, 2016.PlayDave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP
WATCH ISIS Claims Responsibility for Minnesota Mall Attack

Hours after the FBI announced that it is investigating the stabbing attack at a Minnesota mall as possible terrorism, leaders of the area's Somali community held a press conference to condemn the violence.

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Authorities in St. Cloud, Minnesota, have yet to identify the suspect in the attack who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer at the scene Saturday night. Nine people suffered injuries, none of them life-threatening, authorities said.

A Somali father in an interview with the Minnesota Star Tribune has identified his son as the attacker, although authorities have yet to confirm the identification, the Associated Press reported.

Central Minnesota has a robust Somali population, and in the press conference this afternoon, leaders of the community strongly denounced the attack and said it does not represent them.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the violence, and the FBI is investigating it as possible terrorism.

"We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism, and I do say 'potential,'" said FBI agent Richard Thornton of the bureau's Minneapolis office at a Saturday press conference.

Thompson said investigators are looking at all aspects of the suspect's life to determine his motives. "We will try to peel back the onion to find out what motivated this individual to commit the horrific act that he did," Thornton said.

ISIS claimed the assailant was “a soldier of the Islamic State” who carried out the violence in response to ISIS' calls for attacks against civilians, according to a news agency, Rasd, operated by the Islamic State group.

ISIS has used similar language following incidents in which the group did not have prior knowledge or any kind of direct connection to the attack, and it is unclear how the organization may have been linked to the event in Minnesota.

The knife-wielding attacker was wearing a security guard's uniform when he began stabbing people at the mall at about 8 p.m. on Saturday night, authorities said.

Authorities said the assailant is reported to have mentioned Allah and to have asked at least one of his victims if he or she was Muslim.

St. Cloud police initially reported eight victims, but said Saturday that a ninth person went to the hospital on his or her own. All but three of those injured were released by early Saturday afternoon, authorities said.

The nine victims included a 15-year-old girl, a 50-year-old woman and seven men ranging in age from 20 to 53.

The off-duty officer who killed the attacker was from Avon, Minnesota, and just happened to be at the mall at the time, St. Cloud officials said

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and the city's police chief, Blair Anderson, praised the officer, identified as Jason Falconer.

"He clearly prevented additional injuries and potentially loss of life," Kleis said. "Clearly, Officer Falconer was there at the right time and the right place."

The attack occurred at the Crossroads Center in St. Cloud, a city of about 65,000 people 60 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

Chief Anderson said the suspect was not an employee at the mall and that police had had previous encounters with him, mostly for minor traffic violations. He said authorities have no reason to believe anyone else was involved in the attack. The FBI is helping with the investigation.

"The entire mall is an active crime scene," Anderson said.

The St. Cloud mall remained on lockdown following the attack, and authorities eventually released those inside. It was closed on Sunday.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a statement Sunday said the community's "feeling of safety was greatly shaken when an assailant stabbed eight people at the Crossroads Center Mall in St. Cloud. I have visited the mall many times, and I can't imagine the horror experienced by those visiting and working there. My heart goes out to the victims and all those who were there last night,” she said.

Klobuchar also thanked first responders.

“Over the next few days we will learn the facts. But today there is one thing we all share: We are thankful for the bravery of the off-duty officer and first responders who went beyond the call of duty to save lives.”

Photos and video of the mall taken hours after the incident showed groups of shoppers waiting to be released, including some huddled together near a food court entrance.

Harley and Tama Exsted, of Isle, were in St. Cloud to watch their son play in a college golf tournament and were in the mall when the attack happened.

"All of a sudden I heard pop, pop, pop," Harley Exsted told the St. Cloud Times. "I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way."

The couple were unharmed and said they helped another woman who was running from the scene to her car.

Adonis Samuels, 42, of St. Cloud, was outside the mall where his wife Roxanne works as a manager at Clinique at Macy's.

"She called me on the phone and told me she was hiding under the counter with a customer," Samuels said. She later called and said she was safe in a secured area.

Samuels remained outside, watching for her. He said he'd seen her through the glass doors at one point so he knew she was safe.

Jeff Baenen of The Associated Press contributed to this report.