ISIS wing claims responsibility for Minnesota mall attack

Posted at 9:37 AM, Sep 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-18 14:03:07-04

The man who stabbed at least eight people at a Minnesota mall Saturday before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer was a “soldier of the Islamic state,” according to an ISIS-linked news agency.

The statement posted online Sunday by the Amaq agency follows a pattern of ISIS-related media claiming responsibility for what appear to be the acts of individuals across Europe in the past few months.

CNN cannot independently confirm this latest claim.

“We still don’t have anything substantive that would suggest anything more than what we know already, which is this was a lone attacker,” St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday. “And right now, we’re trying to get to the bottom of his motivations.”

Police and witnesses said the man, wearing a private security company uniform, entered Crossroads Mall on Saturday night around 8 p.m. ET, made a reference to Allah and asked at least one person if they were Muslim before he attacked.

Seven of the wounded were treated and released, while one victim remains hospitalized, Chief Anderson said. Police are trying to confirm if a ninth victim was transported to a hospital outside the city, Anderson said.

Ashley Bayne, an employee of JCPenney at the mall, was visiting a coworker at the time of the incident.

“All of sudden chaos just broke out,” she told CNN’s Nick Valencia on Sunday. “There was a bunch of people running into the JCPenney mall entrance, and they were just screaming that someone was going around the mall stabbing people, and that there was blood everywhere. It was just honestly a really scary experience.”

Bayne said she ran out to the parking lot and took off in her car.

The stabbings occurred in multiple locations inside the mall, including the common area and in several stores. The mall has security teams on site but they are not armed.

Shortly after, an off-duty officer confronted the attacker.

“The individual we believe to be responsible for the victim’s stab wounds is currently deceased inside the mall,” police said early Sunday.

Police knew attacker

While the attacker was not identified, authorities said he’d had three previous encounters with police.

Anderson said most of the encounters were for minor traffic violations. None resulted in an arrest.

Anderson declined to provide further details or say whether the attacker was a resident of St. Cloud. He said he is not ready to describe the stabbings as a terrorist attack until details such as a motive are established.

City changed forever

The police chief said the attack had changed the city forever.

“It’s an awful day. We’ve got eight victims who were assaulted here in our mall … things wont be the same here,” Anderson said.

While the mall will be closed until further notice because it’s considered a crime scene, he said, there’s no imminent threat to the city.

“Right now, we don’t have information to indicate anyone else is involved,” he said.

St. Cloud is about 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis and has a population of 67,000.

“Honestly, last night once everything had happened it still felt unreal, it didn’t seem like something that would happen at our mall,” said Bayne, the JCPenney employee. “I’ve been a little shaky … kind of been crying about it a little bit. But it’s definitely something you think about after it happens … It’s really scary to think about and I’m … just thankful to be alive.”

Other attacks

The mall stabbing was one of several incidents reported nationwide Saturday.

In New York City, an explosion ripped through the Chelsea neighborhood, leaving 29 injured. A second suspicious device was found a few blocks away, authorities say.

In neighboring New Jersey, an explosion went off in a garbage can on the route of a Marine Corps charity run. Thousands of people were about to participate in the 5K race in Seaside Park. No injuries were reported.