, UNITED STATES, Sep 20 – The Somali community in the US state of Minnesota braced for a backlash after a man who stabbed 10 people in a mall over the weekend was identified as one of their own.
The FBI is investigating the Saturday attack in the city of St. Cloud as a potential act of terrorism. Authorities late Monday officially identified the attacker as Dahir Ahmed Adan.
Police said he was 20 years old, but local newspaper reports and community leaders said he was 22.
Adan allegedly attacked shoppers at a mall, where police said he asked at least one victim whether they were Muslim before stabbing them, and made “some reference to Allah.”
He was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
Authorities had initially reported that nine people were attacked. As investigators viewed additional security video of the incident, they discovered a tenth victim — a 21-year-old man who had not sought out medical attention or notified authorities of his injuries, police said.
A news agency with ties to the Islamic State group said the rampage was carried out by an IS “soldier,” but it was not clear what connection the attacker had with the terrorist organization.
“We strongly condemn what happened,” said Haji Yussuf, cofounder of the activist group #UniteCloud, during a Sunday news conference. “That is not what this community is, that is not who we are.”
– Reports of harassment –
Eyewitnesses reported on Sunday evening that a handful of pickup trucks, some flying American and Confederate flags, buzzed by apartment complexes where many Somali-Americans live. Meanwhile, a group of flag-waving motorcyclists circled around another Somali neighborhood.
Community advocates like Lul Hersi were getting texts Sunday night from frightened residents. “One person does something, and the whole community pays for that one person’s actions,” she said.
The perpetrators were employing “racial slurs, various hand gestures,” said community activist Justin Michael, who was working with the St. Cloud Police Department to help prevent further incidents.
“It’s really important that we are, as a community, able to share the true, lived experience of the Somali community members that we love so much,” he said.
St. Cloud’s Somali population has its roots in the 1990s and has grown rapidly in the last 10 years. The state of Minnesota is home to a third of the more than 85,000 Somalian refugees resettled in the country, according to the US Census.
Twenty percent of students in St. Cloud’s school district are from a home where the primary language is Somali, according to the St. Cloud Times.
Ismail Ali, a student at St. Cloud State University where Adan attended college, said the city was at a crossroads.
“We can either choose to let hate win and be divided as a community, or we can choose to come together and love one another and move on,” he said.
– ‘Coming together’ –
Governor Mark Dayton, alluding on Monday to the need for unity, expressed “deep concern for what occurred” and pledged to aid in the “community’s recovery from that and coming together more unified and stronger than ever before.”
Yussuf hoped authorities are able to quickly piece together what happened, so they can better address whatever broader problems may have been behind the rampage.
“We need to know, so that we make sure as a community, we stand together as a community, and make sure it does not happen to us ever again. Never again in our town should we see something like this. So, let’s find solutions,” he said
The growth in the Somali refugee population in St. Cloud has escalated tensions, particularly in the school system.
In 2012, the US Department of Education reached an agreement with the St. Cloud school district after an investigation into alleged harassment of Somali Muslim students. Last year, students staged two walkouts in support of a Somali student was falsely labeled on the social media app Snapchat as a member of Islamic State.
The group Yussuf founded, #UniteCloud, was created to try to address tensions and create better relations between Somalis and the community at large. He feared the attack will set back his efforts.
“Thirty years of relationship building could be undone by this one incident,” he said.