ISIS-linked tweet praises UC Merced stabber
As authorities worked to establish a motive for the 18-year-old college freshman who stabbed four people on a California campus Wednesday, more disturbing details emerged about the attacker.
Faisal Mohammad, who was killed by University of California Merced police, was described by at least one witness as smiling as he slashed at victims, called a loner by a fellow dorm resident and drew praise Thursday from a Twitter account associated with ISIS, which just last week released a series of videos calling for lone wolf stabbing attacks.
“May Allah accept him,” read a tweet in Arabic from a Twitter account that terrorism experts say has carried previous ISIS propaganda, just minutes after Mohammad’s name was divulged by campus authorities.
Investigators revealed more information in a news conference Thursday afternoon.
UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland said that personal animosities, not a political agenda, motivated the 18-year-old. LeLand said Mohammad was a student in the class he attacked Wednesday, but authorities didn’t know if he targeted someone in particular.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke added that a bomb squad recovered Mohammad’s backpack, which contained items including petroleum jelly. He described the substance as a “poor man’s C-4,” a military-grade explosive.
Warnke said there was also a handwritten list of items to put in the backpack, and officials recovered them all except for scissors.
Warnke added that there was nothing to indicate Mohammad would lash out violently.
“He had a smile on his face, he was having fun,” a construction worker who helped stop the attacker said.
A suitemate said Mohammad “didn’t talk much.” Andrew Velasquez said he never saw the stabber walking to class with anyone, adding, “Every time I would try and say something he would just ignore it.”
Campus police shot and killed Mohammad, a computer science & engineering major who graduated from Wilcox High School in Santa Clara last June. Police detonated his backpack and are testing a substance inside.
The four victims are expected to survive. Authorities say Mohammad was armed with a hunting knife, and that its blade was 8 to 10 inches long.
The construction worker ran into the classroom to stop the attack, saying he’d initially thought it was a fight. Byron Price, 31, was working on remodeling a waiting room when he heard a commotion and rushed to check on it.
Price told CBS 47, “It was a really big knife and he was swinging it down so I figured if I was on the ground and my feet were at him, he could get my legs and not my body.”
“I really believe he’s a hero here. I think he prevented this first student from dying,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said. “The cops on campus, oh my gosh, praise them because they stopped a threat, but this first guy, he stopped a death.”
Two of the injured had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals, and the other two were treated on campus. The incident began when the assailant used the knife to stab two people in a second-floor room around the start of an 8 a.m. class.
Warnke said the suspect fled the room after attacking the construction worker and ran down two flights of stairs to the outside where he stabbed a school employee sitting on a bench. The suspect fled the building. He was shot and killed by pursuing campus police on a nearby foot bridge.
All the victims were conscious when paramedics reached them, Assistant Vice Chancellor Patti Waid said.
Lensy Maravilla, 19, a first-year student, said she was in a biology class on the second floor of the same building, when a female student ran in.
Maravilla said the student “was crying hysterically and came in and said that she had seen somebody get stabbed, or slashed, in the throat and she ran.”
The main road to enter the campus remained closed to outside traffic Wednesday night and classes were canceled until Friday at the university, which is about 120 miles south of Sacramento in the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley. Police were allowing students who live on campus to come and go, but anxious parents waited in their vehicles at the end of the dark roadway about a half mile from the campus entrance.
The Twitter account on which the attack was praised appears to be one of thousands that regularly reference ISIS, according to Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), which translated the message. Veryan Khan, of TRAC, which monitors ISIS and other groups on social media, said ISIS mounted a call for stabbings on Oct. 18, with the release 19 videos, but could not say what motivated Wednesday’s attack.
“Over the past three days, the Islamic State has released nineteen videos encouraging Palestinians stabbing attacks on Israel,” Khan said. “The media campaign coincides with a wave of renewed violence between Israel and Palestine, after a wave of seemingly lone wolf attacks by Palestinians targeting Israelis.”