FARGO - In the wake of a random stabbing attack at a St. Cloud, Minn., mall over the weekend, Fargo's Somali community is trying to come to grips with the unsettling fact that the suspect grew up here.
The family of 20-year-old Dahir Adan identified him as the man who knifed 10 people Saturday night, Sept 17. All 10 have been released from the hospital, St. Cloud authorities said.
Adan, who was born in Kenya, and his family were Somali refugees who settled in Fargo in the mid-1990s when he was 1 year old, said Fowzia Adde, a local Somali leader. Adan attended Fargo Public Schools until his family moved to St. Cloud at least six years ago, she said.
"If it can happen to them, it's not far away from me, so what can I do to prevent?" she wondered. "What can I do to save my children?"
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The stabbings have also created worries about potential backlash against the Somali community. Hukun Abdullahi, executive director of the Afro American Development Association in Moorhead, said the attack has made some Somalis fearful for their lives.
"Somali mall workers are afraid to go to their jobs today," Abdullahi said in an email. "I was even afraid to use public restrooms or even go inside a gas station yesterday while on the road for fear of repercussions from this lone wolf attack."
The Islamic State has claimed Adan as a "soldier," but St. Cloud authorities said during a news conference on Monday, Sept. 19, that investigators have not found anything to link him to the militant group. Though, just the possibility that a young man raised in Fargo was radicalized and committed an act of terrorism had local officials concerned.
"If it happens in St. Cloud, it could happen in Fargo," Mayor Tim Mahoney said.
Chief David Todd said Fargo police gave the FBI basic information it had about Adan and his family. Todd said Adan never came onto the radar of Fargo police. "I don't have any indication that radicalization is occurring here in Fargo," the chief said.
In a joint statement, Mahoney and Todd said residents should not react to the St. Cloud attack based on fear; rather they should be vigilant in reporting suspicious activity.
'The best child of all'
Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center in Moorhead, described Adan as quiet and well-rounded. "He was, I mean, the best child of all," she said.
Adde said Adan's father is an upbeat guy who served on the board of a Somali community group while living in Fargo. "It was a very full-of-energy family," she said.
Investigators have not determined why Adan stabbed 10 people in the Crossroads Mall on Saturday, making references to Allah and asking at least one person if he or she was Muslim. The attack ended when an off-duty officer from the nearby town of Avon who happened to be at the mall fatally shot Adan.
Somali Community Development of North Dakota, a Fargo-based group, condemned the stabbings in a statement that expressed sympathy to the victims and their families.
"May God give us the power to overcome this tragedy and the strength to reunite communities in these difficult times," the statement said.
Adde called for the Somali community to work to steer youth away from groups like the Islamic State. "We need to sit down, understand what's going on with our children, help them understand who they are," she said.
'This is home'
Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams said she worries about what may come from news media highlighting the attack. "The more we make, you know, these kind of things an issue, the more people are abusive to (refugees) publicly," she said.
The Forum's opinion pages often include letters to the editor from readers opposed to the refugee resettlement program. One of these letter writers is Tim Stallman, a retired geologist who lives in Fargo.
Stallman said the St. Cloud attack was a near-miss for the Fargo area, and he criticized the federal government and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota (LSSND), the group contracted to resettle refugees in the state, for continuing "to dump potentially violent refugees on an unsuspecting public."
"We need a 20-year moratorium on all immigration into this country," he said. "We've taken enough people over the last 30 years that are not assimilating."
LSSND said it will work with ethnic and religious groups, city leaders and law enforcement officials to ensure the stabbing attack does not drive the community apart.
"Our entire nation is reviewing how we approach race relations and people or things that are different. We, as a community, will continue to build bridges for understanding," LSSND said in a statement.
Abdullahi said the violent actions of one man should not cast all Somalis in a negative light. "America gave us shelter and home and a means to earn a living. This is home to us now," he said. "We came in peace and want to live in peace."
'Hurts our dignity'
On Monday afternoon, about 40 men lined up shoulder-to-shoulder during one of the five daily prayer services at the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, a mosque in south Fargo. Said Ibrahim was among them.
The 25-year-old who sells insurance said the attack was a nightmare come true. "It just kind of hurts our dignity as a Somali community," he said.
Ibrahim said he worries the attack could lead to violence against Muslims, particularly women whose head coverings identify their faith. "God knows what the future's going to hold," he said.
Dr. Mohamed Sanaullah, one of the society's board members, said people who commit attacks in the name of Islam are not Muslims. He said the society has worked closely with local police and the FBI to report anyone thought to be taking a fanatical route.
"When in doubt, we say let's just give a name out," he said. "We want to prevent any of this garbage from affecting our community."