Minnesota mall attack is linked to ISIS, but so far no such link in New York explosion

Agence France-Presse
FBI officials mark the ground

FBI officials mark the ground near the site of an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, September 18, 2016.

Rashid Umar Abbasi/Reuters

The FBI said Sunday it was investigating a stabbing spree at a Minnesota mall as a "potential act of terrorism," as local media identified the suspect as a 22-year-old Somali American man.

Nine people were wounded Saturday in the attack in the city of St. Cloud before an off-duty policeman shot and killed the attacker. A news agency with ISIS ties said the rampage was carried out by one of its "soldiers."

Police in St. Cloud confirmed the assailant — who has not been formally identified — had asked some victims whether they were Muslim before stabbing them and made "some references to Allah" before launching his attacks. 

Two local newspapers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Cloud Times, identified the suspect as Dahir Adan. 

The Star Tribune, which interviewed Adan's father, said he was a student at a local college, and was working part-time as a private security guard.

Adan was born in Africa but had lived in the United States for 15 years, his father told the newspaper, adding that he had "no suspicion" that his son was involved in any extremist activity.

But the jihadist-linked Amaq news agency said Sunday that the "executor of the stabbing attacks ... was a soldier of the Islamic State."

ISIS has repeatedly called for lone-wolf attacks on countries in the US-led coalition targeting the jihadist group with air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

"We are currently investigating this as a potential act of terrorism," the FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Rick Thornton, told reporters.

But he said it was not yet known whether the suspect had any connections with — or was inspired by — a "foreign terrorist organization."

Nor is there "any evidence" at this point of a link between a bombing in New York on Saturday that left 29 people injured and the Minnesota attack, St. Cloud police chief William Blair Anderson told CNN.

Leaders of the local Somali-American community issued a statement of sympathy for the family and the victims of the attack, the St. Cloud Times reported.

Large Somali-American community

About 25,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul area — some 70 miles southeast of St. Cloud — has the country's largest concentration.

The Somali American community there has struggled for years with the draw of extremism for some of its young people. 

Several have traveled to Africa to join the al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab group after Ethiopia invaded Somalia, and six were arrested last year while attempting to join ISIS in Syria. 

Early reports on the stabbing had said that eight people were stabbed. Anderson said, however, that a ninth victim left the scene on his own and was treated at a nearby hospital.

Three people remained hospitalized Sunday, said Mayor Dave Kleis, who said the victims included seven men and two women, aged 15 to 53.

Anderson said the armed suspect had entered the Crossroads Center mall wearing a private security uniform and carrying at least one knife.

The attacker was confronted inside a store by an off-duty police officer identified as Jason Falconer, who works part-time for police in the nearby small town of Avon.

Kleis described a harrowing confrontation in which Falconer fired as "the suspect was lunging at him with a knife," and added that even after being wounded, the suspect got back to his feet three times.

Falconer, Kleis said, was "clearly a hero."

The suspect had a history of minor traffic violations, Anderson said, but "wasn't under any surveillance by our agency."

The St. Cloud mall was slated to reopen Monday.

New York attack leaves more questions

The Minnesota attack came as 29 people were injured in a bomb blast in a busy New York neighborhood. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was an act of terror but there was currently no known link to international terror groups and no known motive. 

Nor has there been a claim of responsibility.

Heavily armed police and National Guard soldiers deployed throughout New York as the city of 8.4 million prepared to welcome world leaders at the UN General Assembly on Monday.

The attack happened late Saturday in Chelsea, one of Manhattan's most fashionable districts packed with bars, restaurants and luxury residential buildings.

Police discovered a second bomb planted four blocks away, which was safely defused and is currently being analyzed, officers said.

"A bomb exploding in New York is obviously an act of terrorism, but it's not linked to international terrorism," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters on Sunday as he visited the crime scene.

"In other words, we find no ISIS connection, etc.," said Cuomo.

Motive unknown

New York police chief James O'Neill said no individual or group had claimed responsibility.

O'Neill said he could not say with a "100 percent degree of certainty" where the blast originated. US media reported that it was planted in a dumpster on 23rd Street where major construction work is taking place.

A hot line has been set up for tips. Police have a video of the bombing and were searching for anyone seen in the area before the explosion.

"We know it's a very serious incident, but we have a lot more work to do to be able to say what kind of motivation was behind this," Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters.

"Was it a political motivation, a personal motivation. What was it? We do not know that yet," he added, calling on residents to be vigilant.

FBI official William Sweeney said federal investigators would be pouring through online traffic, individuals and organizations.

"We will look at everything," he told the news conference. "We'll look at social networks, at all the incoming tips and leads. Everything that comes in gets a look. We don't discard anything."

New York will see a stepped up security presence, with an additional nearly 1,000 state police and National Guard deployed to airports, bus terminals and subway stations, officials said.

The explosion on 23rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, caused "significant" damage, shattering glass and shrapnel across the street, but there is no structural damage to any buildings.

Extra police

While the two devices planted in Manhattan appear to be similar, they seem to be different than a pipe bomb that exploded in the neighboring state of New Jersey on Saturday causing no injuries, officials said.

Of the 29 people who sustained injuries in New York, 24 were taken to hospital with various degrees of scrapes and abrasions from glass and metal. All have since been released, officials confirmed Sunday.

New York lauds itself as the safest big city in America. Violent crime is rare in Manhattan and police say they have foiled 20 terror plots since the 2001 al-Qaeda hijackings that destroyed the Twin Towers.

New York Congressman Peter King said the fact that officials had not yet determined a known terrorist link was not necessarily conclusive.

"In many of these cases we don't know until two, three or four days later whether or not there is a terrorist link," he told CBS. "The fact there is no evidence right now doesn't mean much."

Police have sealed off northern Chelsea around the crime scene and dozens of officers were out in force Sunday. An AFP photographer said there was lots of debris, including rubble and glass on 23rd Street. 

"Today there are special events occurring throughout the city. Actually in all five boroughs. We've increased our police presence in each of these events," said senior New York police officer Carlos Gomez.

"We've also added more counter-terrorism officers as well as heavy weapons teams at some of these events. Teams from the strategic response group as well as the critical response command," he said.

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