When Sulejmen Talovic entered the Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City Monday night with a shotgun, a pistol, and a backpack full of ammunition, he intended to “kill a large number of people,” according to Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank. Talovic killed five people and wounded four before he himself was killed by an off-duty Ogden police officer who happened to be in the mall.
Why did Talovic do it? No one knows. Talovic’s aunt, Ajka Omerovic, told reporters: “We want to know what happened, just like you guys. We have no idea...We know him as a good boy. He liked everybody, so I don’t know what happened.” Talovic, who was eighteen at the time of the murders, was a Bosnian Muslim who came to the United States with his family in 1998. Could he have been motivated by jihadist sympathies?
FBI special agent Patrick Kiernan discounted that possibility. “We’re working closely with the Salt Lake P.D. and we’re obviously aware that that [terrorism] is a potential issue out there,” he explained. “But at this point there is nothing that is leading us down this road.” And with Talovic dead and apparently having acted alone, unless something he wrote explaining his actions is discovered, it is unlikely that his motive will ever be definitively known.
But was Kiernan really correct that “there is nothing that is leading us down this road”? Unfortunately, he didn’t explain how he came to this conclusion. Talovic joins an unfortunately growing list of Muslims who have committed random acts of violence, only for officials to assure us that their actions have nothing to do with terrorism. Maybe none of them do, but the list is full of troubling details:
- On January 31, Ismail Yassin Mohamed, 22, stole a car in Minneapolis. He went on a rampage, ramming the stolen car into other cars and then stealing a van and continuing to ram other cars, injuring one person. His father told officials that Mohamed was suffering from mental problems; his mother added he had been depressed and hadn’t been taking his medication. During his rampage, Mohamed repeatedly yelled, “Die, die, die, kill, kill, kill,” and when asked why he did all this, he replied, “Allah made me do it.”
- Omeed Aziz Popal, a Muslim from Afghanistan, who killed one person and injured fourteen during a murderous drive through San Francisco city streets in August 2006, during which he targeted people on crosswalks and sidewalks, identified himself as a terrorist after his rampage, according to Rob Roth of San Francisco’s KTVU. Later the murders were ascribed to Popal’s mental problems, and to stress arising from his impending arranged marriage.
- On July 28, 2006, a Muslim named Naveed Afzal Haq forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Once inside, Haq announced, “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel,” and then began shooting, killing one woman and injuring five more. FBI assistant special agent David Gomez stated: “We believe...it’s a lone individual acting out his antagonism. There’s nothing to indicate that it’s terrorism-related. But we're monitoring the entire situation.”
- In March 2006, a twenty-two-year-old Iranian student named Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove an SUV onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, deliberately trying to kill people and succeeding in injuring nine. After the incident, he seemed singularly pleased with himself, smiling and waving to crowds after a court appearance on Monday, at which he explained that he was “thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah.” Officials here again dismissed the possibility of terrorism, even after Taheri-azar wrote a series of letters to the UNC campus newspaper detailing the Qur’anic justification for warfare against unbelievers, and explaining why he believed his attacks were justified from an Islamic perspective.
None of these were terrorist attacks in the sense that they were planned and executed by al-Qaeda agents. And it is possible that all of them were products of nothing more ideologically significant than a disturbed mental state, although it is at least noteworthy that each attacker explained his actions in terms of Islamic terrorism. As such attacks grow in number, it would behoove authorities at very least to consider the possibility that these attacks were inspired by the jihadist ideology of Islamic supremacism, and to step up pressure on American Muslim advocacy groups to renounce that ideology definitively and begin extensive programs to teach against it in American Islamic schools and mosques.
In October 2006, a pro-jihad internet site published a “Guide for Individual Jihad,” explaining to jihadists “how to fight alone.” It recommended, among other things, assassination with guns and running people over. Is it possible that Sulejmen Talovic and some of these others were waging this jihad of one? It is indeed, but with law enforcement officials trained only to look for signs of membership in al-Qaeda or other jihad groups, and to discount terrorism as a factor if those signs aren’t there, it is a possibility that investigators will continue to overlook.
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