Somali community braces for Minnesota mall attack backlash

People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center mall between Macy's and Target as officials investigate a reported multiple stabbing incident, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in St. Cloud, Minn. Police said multiple people were injured at the St. Cloud shopping mall on Saturday evening in an attack possibly involving both shooting and stabbing. The suspect is believed to be dead, St. Cloud Police Sgt. Jason Burke told the St. Cloud Times. (Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)
People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center mall between Macy's and Target as officials investigate a reported multiple stabbing incident, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, in St. Cloud, Minn. Police said multiple people were injured at the St. Cloud shopping mall on Saturday evening in an attack possibly involving both shooting and stabbing. The suspect is believed to be dead, St. Cloud Police Sgt. Jason Burke told the St. Cloud Times. (Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times via AP)

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Leaders of Minnesota’s large Somali community acknowledged the prospect of a “long winter” for their people in the wake of the weekend’s mall stabbings by a young Somali man, but warned Monday not to quickly accept the terrorism connection.

Authorities are treating Saturday’s stabbings, which wounded nine people 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 the attack appeared to be the work of a single individual and there was no sign that the attacker, identified by his father as 22-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.

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“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.

An off-duty police officer stopped the minutes-long attack Saturday night by shooting and killing Adan. Federal officials released no new information on the investigation Monday.

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.

Somali leaders planned an evening news conference to urge unity.

“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 OneCloud, 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 IS 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 — are supported by most Muslims.

The motive of Saturday’s attack is still unclear, but FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton has said it is being investigated as a “potential act of terrorism.” Authorities were digging into Adan’s background and possible motives, looking at social media accounts and electronic devices and talking to his associates, Thornton said.

If the stabbings are ultimately deemed a terrorist act, it would be the first carried out by a Somali on U.S. soil.

Little is known about Adan, who wore a private security uniform during Saturday’s attack, 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.

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.

Anderson has said the man began attacking people right after entering the mall, stabbing people in several spots. The victims included seven men, one woman and a 15-year-old girl.

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.

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Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in St. Cloud, Minnesota, contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that the Electrolux facility is near, but not in the Crossroads Center mall at St. Cloud.

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