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Thornton: FBI still investigating Minnesota mall stabbing

February 17, 2017

In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, Rick Thornton, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis FBI office, poses in his office in Brooklyn Center, Minn. during an interview with the Associated press. Speaking on several topics including Islamic State recruitment, Thornton said over the last decade, roughly three dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria, and nine Minnesota men were sentenced last year on federal charges of conspiring to join the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — The head of the FBI in Minneapolis says authorities may never be certain about what led to the stabbing attack that left 10 people wounded at a Minnesota mall five months ago.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Rick Thornton said getting into Dahir Ahmed Adan’s electronic media has been an ongoing effort, and authorities might never know exactly what he was thinking.

But he said he’d still characterize the attack as one in which Adan, who had expressed a recent interest in Islam and asked some victims if they were Muslim, may have been radicalized.

Thornton touched on the mall stabbing in a recent wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press. Here are some highlights:

MINNESOTA MALL STABBING

Adan, a 20-year-old Somali-American, was wearing a security guard uniform and armed with two steak knives when he went to a St. Cloud mall on Sept. 17 and stabbed 10 people. He was killed by an off-duty officer.

Thornton said in October that Adan’s behavior and actions suggested he had been radicalized, either through the influence of others or on his own, and investigators were looking at his social media accounts and trying to unlock his iPhone. Thornton recently told the AP that he could say little more about the case, but the FBI is still investigating and the “exploitation” of Adan’s electronic media is an “ongoing effort.”

“In this era of encrypted communications and encrypted devices and so forth, I think it’s going to be an increasingly common outcome where we may not have absolute clarity on what was in people’s minds. If you aren’t seeing all of their communications, there’s always the potential for a gap,” Thornton said.

He said in cases like that, investigators can put together a “substantially complete” picture of what happened, but that isn’t the same as absolute certainty.

ISLAMIC STATE RECRUITMENT

Over the last decade, roughly three dozen people have left Minnesota to join militant groups in Somalia or Syria, and nine Minnesota men were sentenced last year on federal charges of conspiring to join the Islamic State group.

Thornton said the Minneapolis FBI office will be investigating issues surrounding terror recruitment and potential travelers for the foreseeable future.

When asked if there have been any recent travelers from Minnesota, Thornton said he couldn’t provide specifics. But he said there continues to be an interest in the Islamic State group or other militant organizations and that last year’s trial likely drove some recruitment temporarily underground.

Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the U.S., and the community has been a target for terror recruiters. Thornton said the FBI will continue to engage with the community and play a role in community-led efforts to keep people from becoming radicalized.

HATE CRIMES

While there’s been a public perception that bias crimes have increased in recent months, Thornton said Minnesota hasn’t seen a statistically significant increase in what the FBI would categorize as hate crimes.

Thornton said sometimes speech considered hateful or harmful is protected by the First Amendment. Typically, the FBI would get involved if there is a threat or act of violence. He said the FBI also becomes concerned if speech escalates, becoming more aggressive over time.

He urged those who feel they’ve been targeted by hate crimes to report it to the FBI or local authorities, to let them determine if a crime was committed.

“Let us make that decision, because sometimes ... these are close calls,” he said.

POLICE USE OF FORCE

The FBI is rolling out a new initiative to bring local law enforcement and community leaders together to talk about police use of force.

Thornton said his office came up with the idea after the November 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer after a struggle in which authorities say Clark tried to grab another officer’s gun. Thornton said the idea behind the meetings was that the FBI is in a unique position to bridge the gap between law officers in local communities and those who are impacted when force is used.

After a test meeting in the Twin Cities, one session was held in St. Cloud and another is planned for Rochester this spring. Thornton called the dialogues a “healthy process” and said it’s been exciting to see citizens and law enforcement share perspectives and learn from each other.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti . More of her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amy-forliti

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