FARGO, N.D. – North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said he believes the suspect in Friday’s murder of a Fargo police officer was planning a mass shooting.
Still very little is known about 37-year-old Mohamad Barakat, who was shot dead by Officer Zach Robinson after he opened fire on first responders at the scene of a car crash in Fargo, N.D., July 14, killing Officer Jake Wallin, who was in field training, and seriously injuring Officer Andrew Dotas and Officer Tyler Hawes. A 25-year-old Fargo resident who was involved in the car accident was also shot during the incident and transported to a local hospital with serious injuries.
“In the wake of Mohamad Barakat’s murderous, unprovoked attack, Officer Zach Robinson’s use of deadly force was reasonable, it was necessary, it was justified and, in all ways, it was lawful,” Wrigley said during a Wednesday press conference.
“Mohamad Barakat engaged in a savage attack … he unleashed what can only be described fairly as a murderous barrage of fire,” added Wrigley, who oversees the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He described Robinson’s conduct as “some of the most courageous” he’s ever witnessed.
Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks at a Wednesday press conference. (City of Fargo)
Wrigley said Barakat fired 40 rounds from a “high-powered rifle with a scope on it” from his vehicle. Officers believed Barakat was using an automatic weapon, but he was not and all of his firearms were “legally purchased,” according to Wrigley.
Robinson “kept his poise, kept his focus,” and struck Barakat from 75 feet away.
“But Barakat wasn’t done,” Wrigley said. As Robinson moved closer to Barakat, only then did he see that three officers were hit.
“We have three officers down. Send everybody,” Robinson radioed in, Wrigley recounted.
Barakat then rearmed himself with a 9mm firearm that he was “waving around” as Robinson closed in and gave repeated commands to drop the gun. “He does not and the threat was neutralized,” Wrigley said, noting that many civilians were hiding behind vehicles.
“He absolutely ambushed them from inside that vehicle. They had no way to know,” Wrigley said. Barakat didn’t exit the vehicle until after shooting the three officers.
“There were explosives in there. There were canisters with gasoline in there. There was a homemade hand grenade, which was in fact operable,” Wrigley said.
Barakat had 1,800 live rounds in his vehicle and all of his guns were loaded. He was in possession of three long rifles and four handguns.
Barakat had 1,800 live rounds in his vehicle and all of his guns were loaded. He was in possession of three long rifles and four handguns. (City of Fargo/YouTube)
Wrigley was then asked the obvious: “Was this just the beginning of a potential mass shooting across the Fargo area with the street fair and the Red River Valley Fair going on?”
“I won’t go any further but to say I believe yes, it was,” the attorney general responded.
Wrigley said more information will be released Friday on a possible motive during a press conference with the FBI. He declined to confirm if Barakat was from Syria or say when he came to Fargo. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined to comment on Barakat’s immigration status. Law enforcement did not have any pictures of Barakat immediately available for public release because he had never been booked in jail. Body camera footage, which Wrigley’s office reviewed, will be released at a later time.
Wednesday’s press conference was intended to address “the officer use of force issue only” and more information on Barakat is expected to be released Friday.
“It’s clear to us that our officers were ambushed during this attack,” Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “Had Zach not neutralized this shooter, we would have had many more casualties. When you look at the amount of ammunition this shooter had in his car, he was planning on more mayhem in this community.”
Barakat didn’t exit his vehicle, pictured here, until after shooting the three officers. (City of Fargo/YouTube)
Wrigley said he doesn’t have an answer on whether authorities are “considering this an act of terrorism.” He said the FBI will be better suited to answer that question on Friday.
Officer Wallin’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday, July 22, at Pequot Lakes High School at 10:30 a.m. The St. Michael, Minn., native was a member of the Minnesota National Guard who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq before becoming a Fargo police officer in April, according to his obituary, which said:
“Jake wanted to live a life of purpose, where what he did meant something at the end of the day. His short adult years were spent in service to others. Not only to his country and his community, he was also dedicated to and loved dearly, his friends, family, fiancée, and his dog, Thor. His smile brightened any room. His laughter was contagious. He enjoyed life and all it had to offer. A life that was cut short doing a job he loved.”
In a video message Wednesday, Chief Dave Zibolski said Wallin will be escorted by law enforcement from Fargo to Pequot Lakes beginning at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. A public celebration of Wallin’s life will be held Wednesday, July 26, at 1 p.m. at Scheel’s Arena in Fargo.
Wallin, just 23 years old, was engaged at the time of his death. Officer Dotas and Officer Hawes are in critical but stable condition.
“Be worthy,” an emotional Wrigley concluded his press conference. “Be worthy of what [Robinson] did. Be worthy of what all of these men and women do. Be worthy. Help them.”