Crime, Law and Justice

Fargo shooting updates: Suspect had search history of mass shooting events

A woman kneels and prays on a memorial sidewalk
After the escort, Julia L. Carlson-Vogel prays at the community memorial at the site of the shooting last week.
Amy Felegy | MPR News

Updated: July 22, 7:30 a.m. | Posted: July 21, 10 a.m.

Law enforcement officials painted a chilling picture of the suspect in last Friday’s attack in Fargo, N.D., as a man who studied mass killings online and armed himself with guns and explosives in preparation for doing it himself.

Mohamad Barakat
Mohamad Barakat
North Dakota Attorney General's office

“This individual was a calculated, insidious, murderous individual dead set on hurting and killing as many people as possible,” said Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski at a news conference Friday. “He had the intent, he had the commitment, he had the means.”

The gunman, identified as 37-year-old Mohamad Barakat, opened fire on police and firefighters as they responded to a traffic crash in Fargo last week, killing one officer and wounding two other officers and a woman at the scene before he was shot and killed by another police officer.

Barakat had moved to the U.S. from Syria in 2012 and became a citizen in 2019, investigators said. He worked on and off for odd jobs.

In the days leading up to the shooting, Barakat was looking “specifically for large crowd events in the region,” said North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley at the press conference. “He was either likely to be going downtown or going out to the fairgrounds. Those were the two large events going on at that time.”

It remains an active investigation, Wrigley said, adding it is abnormal to be talking about an investigation while it's active. “This is the best information that we have as of today,” he said.

Officer Jake Wallin, 23, was killed in the shooting. Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes were hospitalized with critical injuries. A 25-year-old woman who was nearby at the time also suffered serious injuries.

Video from the scene shows Barakat arrived at the scene shortly after law enforcement and first responders and “he sat there for a while observing the scene,” Wrigley said. Later during the press conference, he said he believed Barakat was circling around the crash scene and waiting for more officers to arrive before the shooting.

Ammunition and weapons laid out on floor
These weapons were found to be in Mohamad Barakat's possession, shown at the North Dakota Attorney General press conference on Friday.
North Dakota Attorney General's office

“We are not releasing today body cam videos,” Wrigley said. “The public will have those when the time is appropriate.”

Officer Wallin arrived two minutes before gunfire began and was the first person shot, Wrigley said, but that it happened so rapidly it is hard to know for sure. Barakat also used a “binary trigger” that allowed him to fire rapidly during the shooting.

When asked if those mechanisms should be banned in North Dakota, Wrigley said he has found no meaningful purpose for binary triggers.

Officer Zachary Robinson directed Barakat to raise his hands or drop his gun 16 times during the two minute exchange of gunfire, before shooting and killing the suspect.

Car with open door
Authorities found weapons in Mohamad Barakat's vehicle, its windows spray-painted black.
North Dakota Attorney General's office

After the shooting, officers obtained search warrants for Barakat’s car and residence. Numerous guns, ammunition, gas canisters, trail cameras and phones were found, along with a variety of grenade parts. All were purchased lawfully, Wrigley said.

Barakat had also spray painted the back windows of his car black.

Authorities said Barakat put “measures in place” to see if people had been in his apartment in his absence.

Wrigley said throughout the investigation, BCI investigators found Barakat didn’t have much of a social media presence, nor a lot of interaction with people.

Investigators also found search results on Barakat's device for “mass shooting events,” “area events,” “how to kill” and a news story titled “Thousands enjoy first day of downtown Fargo street fair.” Search results went back as far as 2018.

“We don't at this moment see additional threats emanating out of this moment,” Wrigley said.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said the officers injured, Dotas and Hawes, were both able to stand up out of their beds briefly and he expects to have them back with the team when they are recovered.

The woman who was shot has been moved out of the ICU and is said to be in “good spirits.” Authorities say at the time of the gunfire, she ran to take cover behind a small tree. She made it a few steps before Barakat saw her moving and shot her. She was severely injured.

Wallin was likely the first person hit and “he took that bullet that someone else in our community might have taken” along with the other two officers, Zibolski said.

North Dakota Police Shoting
The late Fargo Police Officer Jake Wallin
The City of Fargo via AP

Wallin was from St. Michael, Minn., and was in the field as an officer in training, having become a Fargo police officer less than three months earlier. Wallin previously served in the Minnesota Army National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan. His funeral service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Pequot Lakes High School.

After the attack, officers found 1,800 live rounds, three long rifles, four handguns, explosives, canisters with gasoline and a homemade hand grenade in Barakat's car.

A previous law enforcement interaction with Barakat involved a cooking fire in his home. There was also a Guardian’s Report made by a member of the public, Wrigley said, but no interactions involved “a threat of violence.”

According to the information Wrigley has, Barakat was not on a watch list, he said.

STMA is spray painted in the grass near American flags
People spray-painted STMA for St. Michael-Albertville, Wallin's hometown, at the roadside memorial site near the fatal shooting.
Amy Felegy | MPR News

Was there a motive?

“We don’t know,” Wrigley said, other than the “obvious motive to kill.”

The violence was not directed at one person, he said. Barakat waited for more officers to arrive to the crash scene before firing.

Officials so far have not found ties to anti-police sentiments or religious groups.

“At this point in the investigation, I find his Muslim faith no more notable than my Lutheran faith,” Wrigley said, noting he has not found any ties between Barakat and the local Muslim community.

Authorities have spoken with Barakat’s family elsewhere in the U.S. but “it doesn’t sound like they’re particularly close,” Wrigley said.

Fargo Police Chief Dave Zibolski said there’s “legitimate concern” about other threats to the community, which the department shares. The area should expect more police presence, he said.

Three people at podium with Fargo logo
From left to right, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley, Fargo Chief of Police David Zibolski and Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney at the Friday press conference in Fargo, N.D.
Amy Felegy | MPR News

“I just want you to know that we are safe. This is a safe city,” Zibolski said.

Wrigley said he could not estimate how long the investigation would go on. “There might be nothing,” he said of further answers. People with information are asked to call the local Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 701-328-5500.

A public memorial service for Wallin is Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Scheels Arena in Fargo.

Watch the press conference at or on the police department’s Facebook page.

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