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ISIS claims credit for stabbing attack at Minn. mall

People stood outside an entrance to the Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., after a stabbing attack in the mall that injured seven people.
People stood outside an entrance to the Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., after a stabbing attack in the mall that injured seven people.Dave Schwarz/St. Cloud Times/AP

NEW YORK — A news agency linked to the Islamic State claimed on Sunday that a “soldier of the Islamic State” was behind a stabbing spree at a Minnesota shopping mall in which nine people were injured before the attacker was killed.

The knife-wielding man was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer during the Saturday night rampage, in St. Cloud, Minn., police said.

The police said the attacker had mentioned Allah and asked at least one victim if he was Muslim. All nine victims are expected to survive.

It was not immediately clear whether the attacker, whom the police have not identified, had any direct ties to the Islamic State, or whether he acted on his own.

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The terrorist group on Sunday claimed responsibility for the attack. The Amaq News Agency, which acts as the group’s news agency, released a bulletin saying the “executor of the stabbing attacks in #Minnesota yesterday was a soldier of the Islamic State.”

The bulletin went on to say that the attack had been perpetrated in response to the group’s call to “target citizens of countries belonging to the crusader coalition,” a term referring to the US-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against the group.

The language of the Islamic State bulletin — down to the reference of the perpetrator as a “soldier” of the terror group and his stated motive — mirrors claims of responsibility the group issued for numerous attacks in recent weeks.

The spokesman of the Islamic State, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, this summer advised his followers overseas to carry out jihad at home. He said it was no longer necessary to join the group in Iraq and Syria, and instead, aspiring jihadis should use whatever means they had to kill.

He went on to stress that there were no innocents in the West, and declared any blood spilled by Islamic State supporters to be both legal and welcomed.

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All nine Minnesota victims — seven men, a woman, and a 15-year-old girl — were treated at hospitals for wounds that weren’t life-threatening, St. Cloud police said at a news conference Sunday. Three remained hospitalized. The others were released.

The attacker, who was wearing a security uniform, entered the mall and stabbed people in several locations, including corridors, businesses, and common areas, investigators said.

St. Cloud Police Chief William Anderson said police had had three previous encounters with the man, mostly for minor traffic violations. He said authorities have no reason to believe anyone else was involved in the attack.

“It has hit home for us,” Anderson said, adding, “But I want everybody in St. Cloud to know that we will be diligent and we will get to the bottom of this.”

FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Rick Thornton said the attack was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism, but that agents were still digging into the attacker’s background and possible motives, the Associated Press reported.

Jason Falconer, a part-time officer in the city of Avon, was shopping when he confronted the attacker.

Falconer is the former police chief in Albany, Minn., and the president and owner of a firing range and firearms training facility. His LinkedIn profile says he focuses on firearms and permit-to-carry training, and also teaches ‘‘decision shooting’’ to law enforcement students at St. Cloud State University.

In a phone interview Sunday, Mayor Dave Kleis said the mall, Crossroads Center, was an active crime scene and would remain closed. Kleis praised Falconer, who he said had “clearly saved lives and protected the other individuals.”

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“This is exactly what keeps me up at night, and last night it did,” Kleis said. “This could happen in any community in this country, and certainly we have seen it happen.’’

The disruption to a night of shopping in central Minnesota came on the same day that 29 people in New York City were injured in an explosion and that an explosive device detonated near the route of a race in New Jersey. Authorities have given no indication that the attacks were connected.

Anderson said the attack started around 8 p.m. local time and played out at different sites within Crossroads Center, including multiple businesses and common areas. The Crossroads Center website offered few details Sunday; the only reference to the mayhem was a message saying, “The mall will be closed today.”

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.

Kleis, who went to Crossroads Center after the attack, said that “there were a lot of people in that mall and clearly a lot of witnesses,” and that police interviews had stretched well into Sunday morning.

Witnesses and local journalists spoke of a busy, crowded, and confusing scene after the attack, as well as a swift police mobilization.

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“One guy was bleeding from the side of his face,” Sydney Weires, a college student who was inside the mall, told The St. Cloud Times. “He was screaming at us” to get out.

Harley Exsted, another mall patron, told The St. Cloud Times, “All of a sudden I heard pop pop pop.”

“I thought someone tipped over a shelf,” he said. “All of a sudden these people started running. I just saw everybody running our way.”

St. Cloud, with about 67,000 residents, is an hour’s drive northwest of Minneapolis.