At least eight people were hospitalized late Saturday after a stabbing attack at a Minnesota shopping mall that ended with the suspected attacker, who reportedly made references to Allah, shot dead by an off-duty police officer, authorities said.
The assailant “made some references to Allah,” Blair Anderson, police chief in the city of St. Cloud, told journalists. “We have confirmed that he asked at least one person if they were Muslim before he assaulted them.”
But he emphasized that the investigation remains ongoing and that “whether that was a terrorist attack or not — I’m not willing to say that right now because we just don’t know.”
Anderson said during a news conference shortly after midnight the eight victims were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the attack, which was first reported about 8:15 p.m. One person was admitted. No further details were released.
Anderson noted that an off-duty police officer from another jurisdiction shot and killed the unidentified suspect, who was armed with a knife and wearing a private security firm uniform at the time of the attack. Anderson did not say where the off-duty officer serves.
“We will be diligent and get to the bottom of this,” Anderson said, adding that St. Cloud Police had prior contact with the suspect, but only related to traffic stops.
The Crossroads Center mall remained on lockdown following the incident, but authorities expected those remaining inside to be released early Sunday. Photos and video of the mall taken hours after the incident showed groups of shoppers waiting to be released, including some huddled together near a food court entrance.
Harley and Tama Exsted of Isle, Minnesota, who were in St. Cloud to watch their son play in a college golf tournament, were in the mall when the incident occurred.
“All of a sudden I heard pop, pop, pop,” Harley Exsted told the St. Cloud Times. “I thought someone tipped over a shelf. All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way.”
The couple were unharmed and said they helped another woman who was running from the scene to her car.
Adonis Samuels, 42, of St. Cloud, was outside the mall where his wife Roxanne is employed as a manager at Clinique at Macy’s.
“She called me on the phone and told me she was hiding under the counter with a customer,” Samuels said. She later called and said she was safe in a secured area.
Samuels remained outside, watching for her. He said he’d seen her through the glass doors at one point so he knew she was safe.
St. Cloud is about 112.65 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Minneapolis.