Racial tension in wake of mall attack
MINNEAPOLIS — The day after a young Somali-American man stabbed 10 people at a central Minnesota mall, pickup trucks were spotted driving through predominantly Somali neighborhoods, honking and waving Confederate flags — highlighting the precarious bond between the thousands of Somalis who live in St. Cloud and other city residents.
Saturday’s attack at Crossroads Center Mall is testing city and community leaders’ efforts to improve longstanding racial tensions, which flared up a few years ago when Somali-American high school students said they were being harassed and being called terrorists.
It’s also spawning backlash against Somalis and other Muslims elsewhere in in the state, including south of the Twin Cities, where the owner of a restaurant and ice cream parlor changed his sign out front after Saturday’s attack to read “Muslims Get Out,” saying he won’t be “peer pressured by the politically correct crowd.”
Somalis in St. Cloud are trying to square the bright, family-minded Dahir Adan, who went to the mall to buy the new iPhone, with the emotionless man who was killed by an off-duty officer and is the subject of a terrorism investigation. Investigators are poring through witness and victim accounts, video footage and the 20-year-old’s electronic devices to piece it together what sparked the attack.
An Islamic State-run news agency claimed Adan was a “soldier of the Islamic State.” St. Cloud’s police chief has said it seems Adan acted alone. On Tuesday, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force assumed the lead on the investigation. Loven said he could not discuss any investigative details, but that authorities are following up on all leads.
“Motivation is a big part of this investigation,” FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said.
As many as 10,000 Somalis have settled in three counties that compose St. Cloud, a city with about 65,000 people, according to estimates from the state demographer. Smaller Somali populations have settled in rural pockets of Minnesota, while Minneapolis has the state’s largest Somali population; conflict between those residents and the state’s majority population seem to occur less frequently than in Minnesota’s smaller cities.
And aside from the reported Confederate flag situation, St. Cloud has had lasting issues. Last year, some Somali-American students walked out in protest, saying they were being harassed and called members of Islamic State. Complaints of mistreatment at a local high school prompted a federal civil rights investigation in 2011 and, though an agreement resolved that case, the U.S. Department of Education still was monitoring last year.
Saturday’s stabbing has left local Somalis trying to square the bright, family-minded young man who went to the mall to buy the new iPhone with the emotionless man who stabbed 10 people, reportedly asking some victims whether they were Muslim before stabbing them. St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis called “an individual clearly bent on evil.”
Kleis insisted Tuesday the city is united and said he hasn’t heard of any retaliatory incidents since the stabbings.
Nor has Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of Council of American-Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter, who said some local Somali-Americans were nervous about being viewed as “guilty by association.”
“This is the test that we need to show that this community is stronger and more resilient than what has been reported,” Hussein said.
Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report.