Islamic State says Ohio State attacker was its ‘soldier,’ school seeks unity as classes resume – Washington Post
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The official news agency of the Islamic State labeled the Ohio State student who smashed his car into a crowd and then slashed at people with a butcher knife a “soldier” of the militant group, according to an organization that monitors extremists.
This posting does not necessarily mean that Abdul Razak Ali Artan acted at the behest of the terror group, which often claims responsibility for attacks in which it had no actual involvement, said Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group. Katz said that Amaq’s claim suggested that Artan did not coordinate with the group, but that it had spent time looking at news reports to determine his motivation.
The bloodshed in Columbus on Monday occurred after the Islamic State issued instructions this month about carrying out attacks using knives and vehicles, Katz said. And as long as these instructions are online, similar attacks are likely to continue, she said.
On Tuesday, the Amaq News Agency, which is linked to the Islamic State, also said that the attack was carried out in response to the group’s “calls to target citizens,” the same language used when the group claimed credit for the Minnesota mall stabbings in September.
After the deadly attacks in Paris last year, detailed news releases with video recordings and photos were quickly sent out. It took two days for Amaq to claim credit for the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last year, saying that “supporters of the Islamic State” had carried out the mass killing. In September, it took a day for Amaq to claim that the attacker who stabbed 10 people in a Minnesota mall was a “soldier” of the group.
Authorities have not established a motive in the attack. But the law enforcement investigation increasingly is focusing on the possibility that Artan was motivated by radical or terrorist influences, though he had no actual contacts with the Islamic State or other overseas terror groups, a U.S. official said.
FBI investigators are working jointly with local authorities and are keenly interested in a Facebook post – believed to be from Artan – that talks of abuses against Muslims and the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. FBI spokesmen declined to comment on the Islamic State’s claim that Artan was a “soldier” of the group. An FBI spokesman said Artan was unknown to the bureau before Monday.
A U.S. official said Artan came to the U.S. from Somalia as a refugee in 2014, and stayed at least for a time in the Dallas area before moving to Columbus. He was a community college student in Columbus from 2014 to 2016 and transferred as a junior to Ohio State this semester.
FBI Director James B. Comey has warned Congress about the screening of refugees, saying in 2015 of those coming from Syria: “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this.”
Social media groups in favor of the Islamic State had celebrated the attack on Monday after reports emerged about Artan’s possible Facebook post ranting about the treatment of Muslims, but that reaction had ebbed by a day after the violence, Katz said.
According to CNN, the Facebook post apparently written shortly before the attack says that if Muhammad were alive today he would be labeled a terrorist by the western media and that “seeing my fellow Muslims being tortured, raped and killed in Burma led to a boiling point. I can’t take it anymore.”
In the aftermath of the attack — which authorities said appeared to have been planned — classes resumed at Ohio State on Tuesday morning with sorrow, fear, numbness, and a call for unity.
Artan, an Ohio State student whose neighbors in Columbus said was Somali, was shot to death by a university public safety officer within minutes of his outburst, which injured 11 people.
The attack Monday morning, as classes were beginning after the Thanksgiving break, sent crowds of students sprinting to safety while others barricaded themselves in classrooms not knowing what was happening. Three victims of the attack remained hospitalized Tuesday afternoon, according to the chief medical officer at the Wexner Medical Center, Dr. Andrew Thomas: “We expect all of the individuals to make a full recovery.”
A professor hurt in the attack spoke at a news conference Tuesday afternoon shortly after being discharged from the hospital, where he was treated for severe lacerations that he said left bloody footprints all down a hallway where he fled. William Clark, an emeritus professor of materials science and engineering, was hit by the car driven by Artan, thrown into the air and landed on concrete.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “It seemed to me literally within 15 to 30 seconds I heard the shots and it was over.”
Clark said he was withholding judgment about Artan’s motives and the claim that he was a “soldier” of the militant Islamic State.
“Anybody can take responsibility for anything if they see it as a feather in their cap,” Clark said, adding that as a research professor he wanted to know more facts about the case, such as whether there were personal family issues or social issues involved. “Before I pass judgment on this young man, I would like to see exactly what the circumstances are and exactly why he took the course of action.”
He also said he was mindful of this: Artan is dead. And, Clark said, “I’m going home this afternoon.”
Law-enforcement officials said they are investigating the origins of Artan’s apparent social-media rant about the treatment of Muslims. Artan also recently told the student newspaper the Lantern that he was scared to pray in public on the Ohio State campus. Some presumed that those frustrations might have served as motivation for the attack.
The assault “bears all the hallmarks of a terror attack carried out by someone who may have been self-radicalized,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement Monday.
That sentiment, which emerged almost immediately after police publicly identified Artan, led to concern from some in the Columbus Somali and Muslim communities that people angered or frightened by the attack might target them for retribution. Some at Ohio State described students and faculty as bracing for the day Tuesday, facing the unknown.
At a time when the country is already deeply divided over issues of immigration, with president-elect Donald Trump having vowed to prevent Muslim extremists from entering the country, the attack was particularly searing.
The university had a message prominently on their home page Tuesday morning: “Together we remain unified in the face of adversity. Today and always, we’re all Buckeyes.”
Community members planned to gather in the evening to promote unity and healing.
Join @OhioState on Tuesday, 11/29 at 7pm at St. John Arena for a special community event as we continue our healing process. #BuckeyeStrong pic.twitter.com/KnPynFrO9u
— OhioStateStudentLife (@StudentLifeOSU) November 28, 2016
While police say Artan was alone during the attack, authorities have not ruled out the possibility that he might have had some form of help, Columbus police chief Kim Jacobs said Tuesday.