COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Somali-born student who carried out a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University may have been inspired by the Islamic State group and a former al-Qaida leader, investigators said Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials said it’s too soon to say the rampage that hurt 11 people on Monday was terrorism and that they were not aware of any direct contact between the Islamic State and the attacker.
“We only believe he may have been inspired” by the group and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who took a leadership role in al-Qaida before being killed in 2011, said Angela Byers, the top FBI agent overseeing federal investigations in the southern half of Ohio.
The FBI said it was looking to verify whether Monday morning rantings before the attack that were posted on Facebook about U.S. interference in Muslim lands were made by the assailant, Ohio State student Abdul Razak Ali Artan.
Artan bought a knife before the attack but police don’t know if that was the weapon he used.
The 18-year-old was fatally shot by a police officer shortly after driving into pedestrians and then slashing others with a knife.
That officer, with Ohio State’s department, was already nearby after responding to reports of a gas leak in a building. Those reports appear legitimate and unrelated to the attack, said Mike Woods, a deputy chief with Columbus police.
On Tuesday, a self-described Islamic State news agency called Artan “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the operation in response to calls to target citizens of international coalition countries.” The Islamic State group has described other attackers around the world as its “soldiers” without specifically claiming to have organized the acts of violence.
“They have been known to take credit for incidents like this when the assailant is deceased and can’t refute that,” Byers said.
The investigation has not found that anyone else was involved in the planning or in the attack, Byers said.
Authorities are trying to piece together a gap of several hours between the time Artan bought the knife at a Wal-Mart near his home and the attack.
What’s also unknown is why Artan targeted the campus and an engineering building, said Woods.
Artan was in his first semester on campus and enrolled in the business school. He was a refugee who spent several years in Pakistan before coming to the U.S. in 2014.
President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that Artan “should not have been in our country.” Trump’s tweet did not elaborate.
Ohio State students continued to offer messages of support for the victims by writing messages on a board in the student union. Well-wishers using markers contributed Bible verses, famous quotations and sympathy to both the victims and police.
A number of students stopped by Wednesday to check out the board by the information desk in the union. Around them, a tour guide led prospective students and their parents out into the drizzle.
Three of the 11 people injured in the attack remain hospitalized and are expected to recover, according to the Ohio State medical center.
Tuesday evening, a leader of a Somali community association in Columbus said Artan drove his siblings to school as normal beforehand.
Artan’s mother said she didn’t know anything was wrong until police showed up at her door, said Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association, relating an in-person conversation he had with the mother Monday afternoon.
Nothing seemed different about her son, who she said was enjoying his education, Omar said.
“He woke up and he went to school,” Omar said.