The man who ambushed Fargo police officers during a traffic stop last week, killing one and wounding two others and a civilian, searched the internet for terms including “explosive ammo” and “kill fast,” as well as for what crowded events might be happening in North Dakota’s largest city, authorities said Friday.
Mohamad Barakat, 37, didn’t seem to be particular about which group or individual he might target, state Atty. Gen. Drew Wrigley said at a news conference.
On the day of the attack, July 14, Barakat loaded his car with guns, a homemade grenade, gasoline canisters, propane tanks containing improvised explosives, and more than 1,800 rounds of ammunition, authorities said. About two miles from his home, he came across a fender bender by “happenstance” and pulled over to watch from his parked vehicle, Wrigley said.
With police and firefighters busy helping, Barakat watched for several minutes until the officers walked by him, when he lifted a .223-caliber rifle out of his car window and began firing, Wrigley said.
The rifle had a “binary trigger” that allowed it to fire so rapidly that it sounded like an automatic weapon, the attorney general said. The three officers who were shot had no time to react and fell in rapid succession. He also shot and wounded a fleeing woman, Karlee Koswick, who had been involved in the car accident, he said.
The fourth officer at the scene, Zach Robinson, engaged Barakat in a shootout, which ended with Robinson shooting and killing Barakat as bystanders crouched nearby.
Wrigley said he believes the violence could have been the beginning of a bigger attack, as the Downtown Fargo Street Fair and the Red River Valley Fair were underway.
He said Robinson was the “last man standing” between the “horrible events” that Barakat had planned that day.
Barakat killed Officer Jake Wallin, 23, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Minnesota Army National Guard, and wounded Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes. Wallin and Hawes were so new that they were still undergoing field training.
Barakat was a Syrian national who came to the U.S. on an asylum request in 2012 and became a U.S. citizen in 2019, Wrigley said, adding that he didn’t appear to have any ties to the Muslim community in Fargo. He said Barakat had some family in the U.S., but not in the Fargo area, and that investigators are still looking into his history before he arrived in the country.
Barakat amassed an arsenal in recent years, and his internet searches about causing mayhem date back to 2018, with periods in which they abated before picking back up, the attorney general said. Nothing from online, Barakat’s phones, the community or his family suggested he had a hatred of the police, he said.
At this stage in the investigation, it seems all of his weapons were purchased legally, and he had many of them in his car on the day of the shooting, Wrigley said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is looking into whether he got any of the gun components illegally.
Wrigley said Barakat was wearing a vest that was “absolutely stuffed” with magazines and that he “was putting the finishing touches on his shooting skills in the last hours before this assault.”
Barakat had worked odd jobs, and briefly trained as an emergency responder at a nearby community college. He had no criminal record or social media presence and had little contact with other people, Wrigley said.
Lasting about two minutes, the gunfight was still longer than most, David Zibolski, the police chief of North Dakota’s largest city, said Wednesday. Wrigley noted that Robinson fired approximately 30 rounds and had to stop to reload.
Zibolski said it might have been worse had there not been emergency crews already there, including an ambulance. As soon as the firing stopped, firefighters rushed in and began administering first aid, he said.
“We avoided, I think, a major catastrophe here in our city, and it’s still a very big tragedy,” the chief said.
Wrigley said Koswick was badly injured and will have a difficult recovery. Zibolski said the wounded officers were briefly able to stand up out of their hospital beds on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a funeral service is planned for Saturday for Wallin, whose body was cremated in his police uniform.