Attacker stabs 8 at St. Cloud mall; ISIS-linked media says he was ‘soldier of the Islamic State’
By Staff and wire reports, Twin Cities
PUBLISHED: September 17, 2016 at 10:56 pm |
A lone attacker stabbed eight people at a St. Cloud shopping mall Saturday night before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, according to city officials.
None of the victims’ injuries were considered life-threatening, but one was admitted to St. Cloud Hospital, Mayor Dave Kleis said during a midnight press conference. The other seven victims were treated at the hospital and released.
An Islamic State-run news agency, Rasd, 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.
It was not immediately clear if the extremist group had planned the attack or even knew about it beforehand. IS has encouraged so-called “lone wolf” attacks. It has also claimed past attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership.
An FBI spokesman said Sunday that the agency was “actively involved” in the investigation and working with St. Cloud police. He declined to comment on reports the attack was linked to a terrorist organization.
The suspect entered the Crossroads Center mall about 8 p.m. armed with a knife and wearing a private security uniform, St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson told reporters at the press conference. The suspect reportedly made references to Allah during the assaults and asked at least one of the victims whether they were Muslim, Anderson said.
An off-duty police officer from another jurisdiction confronted the suspect inside the mall and shot him to death, Anderson said. He did not identify the suspect, but said investigators have no reason to believe anyone else was involved in the attack.
“It’s an awful day,” Anderson said. “Starting tomorrow, things won’t be the same here.”
He added that “this obviously could’ve been a lot worse” if it not for the actions of the off-duty officer and other responding agencies.
Anderson declined to call the attacks an act of terrorism, saying the suspect’s motive is not yet known. “We will be diligent and get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Investigators continued examining the scene and interviewing witnesses at the mall into the early hours of Sunday morning.
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.
The mall will remain closed until further notice.
U.S. Rep Tom Emmer, whose district includes St. Cloud, said the attacker “struck terror into the hearts of all Americans.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this attack and we hope for their speedy recovery,” he said in a statement Sunday. “The citizen who stopped this evil man and ended his attack is a hero and has the gratitude and admiration of us all.”
U.S. Sen Amy Klobuchar also thanked the off-duty officer and the “first responders who went beyond the call of duty to save lives.”
“I have visited the mall many times, and I can’t imagine the horror experienced by those visiting and working there,” she said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the victims and all those who were there last night.”
The attack began shortly after an explosion in a crowded New York City neighborhood injured 29 people.
A suspicious device was found a few blocks away and safely removed. Hours before that, a pipe bomb exploded in Seaside Park, New Jersey, shortly before thousands of runners were due to participate in a charity 5K race. There was no indication that any of the incidents were linked.