Source: Minnesota attacker asked victims if they were Muslim

People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Several people were taken to a hospital with injuries after a stabbing attack at the mall, which ended with the suspected attacker dead inside the mall.   AP
People stand near the entrance on the north side of Crossroads Center shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minn., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Several people were taken to a hospital with injuries after a stabbing attack at the mall, which ended with the suspected attacker dead inside the mall. AP

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A federal law enforcement source tells CBS News that the deceased suspect in a Minnesota mall attack that wounded eight Saturday, was asking people if they were Muslim and stabbing those who said they were not.

Officials said the man has had interactions with police in the past, including recently, but the source could not yet characterize the nature of those interactions. CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports the deceased suspect is a 20-year-old Minnesota resident.

Investigators are still trying to determine if the attack actually had any connection with ISIS. A news agency connected with the extremist group claimed Sunday that the suspect the attacker had heeded calls for attacks in countries that are part of a U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.

The ISIS-run Rasd news agency called the suspect a “soldier of the Islamic State.”

It was not immediately clear if the extremist group had planned the attack or even knew about it beforehand. ISIS has encouraged so-called “lone wolf” attacks. It has also claimed past attacks that are not believed to have been planned by its central leadership.

St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson said the attacker, who has yet to be identified, was wearing a security uniform and was armed with a knife, reports CBS Minnesota. Anderson said the attacker made at least one reference to Allah.

Police said late Saturday they were not ready to call the attack an act of terrorism.

“We will be diligent and get to the bottom of this,” Anderson said. “We will be transparent.”

Officials said at a press conference Sunday that the off-duty officer who shot and killed the suspect is Jason Falconer, a former Albany, Minn., chief of police.

Officials said Falconer shot the suspect when the suspect lunged at him. Will Blair Anderson, Chief of Police for St. Cloud, said there was just five minutes between the first 911 call and reports of the suspect being shot dead.

A Minnesota hospital official said Sunday three of the eight people who were attacked remain hospitalized.

St. Cloud Hospital spokeswoman Chris Nelson said Sunday that the other five people were released and that none of the three still at the hospital has injuries that are considered life-threatening.

Ashley Bayne, who was visiting a friend at the J.C. Penney store in the mall described the scene to CBS Minnesota.

“I went closer to the mall entrance by J.C. Penney’s and I was looking at some jeans and all the sudden people were just running in chaos,” Bayne said. “They were screaming, ‘Someone’s stabbing people in the mall,’ and people were just really frantic and were running.

“There were so many cop cars just responding to the area,” Bayne said. “When I got in my car to get out people were speeding out of there. By the time I left my coworker had texted me saying they had all gone into lockdown in the mall. There were no notifications in the mall at all, it was just people running and screaming.”

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.”

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