A Somali-born student who carried out a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University may have been inspired by the Islamic State group and a former al-Qaida leader, investigators said Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials said it’s too soon to say if the rampage that hurt 11 people on Monday was terrorism and that they were not aware of any direct contact between the Islamic State and the attacker.
“We only believe he may have been inspired” by the group and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who took a leadership role in al-Qaida before being killed in 2011, said Angela Byers, an FBI agent leading the investigation.
The FBI said it was looking to verify whether rantings posted on Facebook about US interference in Muslim lands on the morning of the attack were made by the assailant, Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson echoed the FBI, explaining that there were no direct links to terror groups.
Even though Artan professed support for radical Islamists on his Facebook page and an Islamic State-linked news agency claimed he was an IS “soldier,” Johnson said the probe had so far not revealed any direct communications between Artan and such groups.
“At this point we see no direct links to any terrorist organization,” Johnson said.
“The indications are right now that this was an act of someone who was self-radicalized.”
Officials have not declared the assault a terror attack, but on Tuesday the IS-linked news agency Amaq said the rampage was inspired by IS calls to action.
“He carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of international coalition countries,” Amaq quoted an insider source as saying, according to a translation by the SITE group that monitors extremists.
A Facebook page believed to belong to Artan — and since taken offline — included complaints against the United States.
“I can’t take it any more. America! Stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah,” he wrote, according to copies of the Facebook page saved by US media.
“If you want us Muslims to stop carrying (out) lone wolf attacks, then make peace,” the post reads. “We will not let you sleep unless you give peace to the Muslims.”
Police did say that Artan bought a knife before the attack but do not know if that was the weapon he used.
The 18-year-old was fatally shot by a police officer shortly after driving into pedestrians and then slashing others with a knife.
Ohio State students on Wednesday continued to offer messages of support.
All four panels of a two-sided board in the student union were filled with messages in the morning. Writers using markers have contributed Bible verses, famous quotations and well-wishes to both the victims and police.
A number of students stopped by to check out the board by the information desk in the union. Around them, a tour guide led prospective students and their parents out into the drizzle.
Three of the 11 people injured in the attack remain hospitalized and are expected to recover, according to the Ohio State medical center.
On Tuesday evening, a leader of a Somali community association in Columbus said Artan drove his siblings to school as normal beforehand.
Artan’s mother said she didn’t know anything was wrong until police showed up at her door, said Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association, relating an in-person conversation he had with the mother Monday afternoon.
Nothing seemed different about her son, who she said was enjoying his education, Omar said.
“He woke up and he went to school,” Omar said.