The UC Merced freshman who stabbed four people before he was shot to death by campus police in November was “self-radicalized”and inspired by ISIS, but not connected to organized terror groups, the FBI said Thursday.
An investigation conducted by the FBI’s Fresno Area Joint Terrorism Task Force found Faisal Mohammad, an 18-year-old from Santa Clara, had visited extremist websites prior to the Nov. 4 attack, but apparently attacked alone, according to FBI spokeswoman Gina Swankie.
“Investigators developed information that he may have self-radicalized and drawn inspiration from terrorist propaganda,” Swankie said in a statement. “His laptop contained pro-ISIL propaganda, and he had visited ISIL and other extremist websites in the weeks prior to his attack.”
ISIL is a name typically used by government officials for the group media outlets call ISIS.
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“After an extensive investigation of all available evidence, no ties to co-conspirators or foreign terrorist organizations have been found,” Swankie said. “Every indication is that Mohammad acted on his own; however, it may never be possible to definitively determine why he chose to attack people on the UC Merced campus.”
Every indication is that Mohammad acted on his own.
Gina Swankie, FBI spokeswoman
Swankie, in a brief interview with the Sun-Star, declined to comment on whether the FBI categorized the attack as an act of terrorism.
“I don’t think I can answer that for you today,” she commented, saying she would “take the question under submission.”
U.S. security experts have cautioned that terror groups like ISIS have encouraged individual supporters to carry out their own small-scale, or “lone wolf,” attacks.
In testimony given last year before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas J. Rasmussen said, “The threat we face is not just from foreign fighters or terrorist groups including ISIL and al-Qa’ida. Individuals inspired by those and other groups, or simply by violent extremist propaganda, can be motivated to action, with little to no warning.”
The slender computer science student launched his attack on Nov. 4, when he walked into a morning class with a 10-inch knife, a backpack filled with zip-tie handcuffs, duct tape and, in his pocket, a point-by-point plan to take his classmates captive in order to summon police officers and grab a gun, according to early law enforcement statements.
After stabbing and wounding one classmate, Mohammad was interrupted by a nearby contractor who entered the classroom. Mohammad stabbed the man before running from the building. Two others were stabbed and wounded before Mohammad was shot and killed by campus police.
Soon after the attack, Merced County Sheriff’s investigators said the manifesto written by Mohammad indicated he was enraged over being kicked out of a study group weeks before the attack. The document indicated Mohammad had hoped to use an officer’s gun to go back to a dormitory and kill people there.
The hand-written manifesto has been described by the sheriff’s department but never released publicly.
It really is a sigh of relief to know he was acting on his own.
Vern Warnke, Merced County sheriff
Sheriff Vern Warnke has said that Mohammad’s two-page note made references to Allah, but showed no sign that the teenager’s attack had been religiously motivated.
Warnke on Thursday described the FBI’s findings as “expected,” “disturbing,” and still “a sigh of relief.”
“It really is a sigh of relief to know he was acting on his own,” Warnke told the Sun-Star. “But, I’m sure he’s not the only citizen of this country attempting to radicalize based on a religion.
“It’s what we thought all along: There was nothing to indicate anything other than he was acting on his own,” Warnke said. “Still, it’s disturbing that we’d have someone — a citizen of this country — trying to self-radicalize.”
Warnke said the Internet was Mohammad’s “sole source” of information regarding terrorism. The sheriff said he was confident there were no missed warning signs which could have prevented November’s violence.
Investigators have described Mohammad as a troubled, isolated young man who knew few people on campus. They believe that, in planning how to stage his attack, he may have sought to model behavior by the extremist group.
Authorities believe Mohammad, the U.S.-born son of a couple from Pakistan, was a practicing Muslim, but he appears to have been unknown to Muslim groups in Merced.
Leaders of the campus’ Muslim Student Association, the Islamic Center of Merced, and the Merced chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, all have said they had not known Mohammad.
Said Homza Al-Ariemy, president of the campus group: “No one knew who he was.”
The attack was the most serious act of violence on the 10-year-old campus, which is home to 6,700 students and is the newest campus in the University of California system.
In a statement sent to the campus community Thursday, Chancellor Dorothy Leland said, “I remain troubled that this could happen on any university campus, much less our own. UC Merced is inherently a very safe campus and a small, close-knit community. And yet, tragedy stuck, and through that tragedy the remarkable character of our campus was revealed.”
“While the conclusion of the investigation brings some resolution,” she said, “it may also bring to the surface emotions that are still raw and fragile. The compassion demonstrated for all members of our campus community, then and now, will help us to continue the healing process.”
Warnke said he believes the public is becoming more educated each day regarding both terrorism and on-campus violence.
“I can’t say anyone will ever be able to prevent everything like this, but as the public gets more educated, more and more people will be able to recognize troubling signs,” Warnke said. “Hopefully, they’ll report that information to law enforcement or the clergy or a counselor and we’ll get that information and be able to take the appropriate steps.”
Warnke said regular citizens “stepping up” prevented November’s violence from escalating into a deadly attack.
“You can’t minimize the injuries or the violence that those people actually were victimized by,” Warnke said. “But, you can say that if others some of those people hadn’t stood up and intervened, it could’ve been much, much worse.”