A man who was killed after stabbing nine people Saturday night inside a Minnesota mall was “a soldier of the Islamic State,” an ISIS-linked news agency said Sunday morning.
The attack occurred around 8 p.m. inside the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, Minn., about 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis, according to media reports. The man was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
The suspect, who was wearing a private security uniform, made at least one reference to Allah during the attack and asked at least one person whether they were Muslim before attacking them, according to the St. Cloud Police Department.
In a statement Sunday, Amaq News Agency said the suspect “carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition.”
Three of the victims were hospitalized. All suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
The FBI is involved in the investigation. “We are working in concert with the St. Cloud Police Department,” Minneapolis FBI field office spokesman Kyle Loven told The Washington Post. “Right now we’re trying to ascertain the facts.”
Loven would not comment on the Amaq claim or on the identity of the suspect.
During a news conference Saturday night, St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson declined to call the attacks an act of terrorism. The suspect’s motive remains unknown, he told reporters. A spokesman for the police department has not returned a call from The Post inquiring about a possible link to the terrorist group.
“I want everyone in St. Cloud to know we will be diligent and get to the bottom of this,” Anderson told reporters. “Starting tomorrow, St. Cloud will not be the same anymore.”
Sydney Weires was at the mall during the incident. She told the St. Cloud Times that she and her friends were walking down a hallway toward Sears when they heard a loud scream.
“I saw this security guard sprinting down the hallway toward Target,” Weirs told the paper. “He was yelling, ‘Call the cops! Call the cops!'”
She said they later saw two men drenched in blood; one was bleeding from the side of his face, while the other had blood on the back of his shirt.
“He was screaming at us, ‘get the F out!'” she said about one of the men, according to the paper.
Weires and her friends were able to leave the mall before authorities enforced a lockdown.
“We could have been one of the victims,” Weires told the paper. “It’s insane.”
Harley Exsted said he and his wife were in St. Cloud on Saturday to watch their son play in a college golf tournament, according to the St. Cloud Times.
“All of a sudden I heard pop pop pop,” Harley told the paper. “I just thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running away.”
“But then when we heard the screaming, then we knew it was time to go,” he added.
Authorities have not released the name of the off-duty officer who’s from another jurisdiction.
The suspect has had encounters with police before, Anderson told reporters, but most were for minor traffic violations.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis also addressed reporters on Sunday.
“Thoughts and our prayers go [to] those who were injured tonight,” Kleis told reporters.
Hours after the incident, groups of shoppers huddled inside the mall’s food court. They have since been released, Sgt. Jason Burke, spokesman for the St. Cloud Police Department, said, though the mall will remain closed Sunday as the investigation continues.
It’s unclear at this time if the terrorist group had planned the attack or knew of it beforehand, according to the most recent news release from the St. Cloud Police Department.
“IS has encouraged lone wolf attacks. It has also claimed past attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership,” according to the department.
Many of the attacks that the terrorist group has claimed since the highly coordinated shootings and bombings in Paris last November were carried out by individuals who were simply inspired by the group’s ideology and likely never came into direct contact with ISIS operatives, The Post’s Max Bearak wrote in July.
The attack happened on the same night that an explosion happened in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. At least 29 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the blast. One person was seriously injured, authorities said.
Hours earlier, a pipe bomb exploded in a Jersey Shore garbage can shortly before a scheduled charity race benefiting Marines and Navy sailors.
On Friday, in Philadelphia, a gunman fired 18 shots at a police officer before shooting several others, including a woman who was killed.
Authorities say none of the incidents appear to be related.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Kristine Guerra