Columbus, Ohio — The man who launched a gruesome attack on November 28, 2016, at Ohio State University (OSU) has been identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somalia native and legal permanent resident of the United States.
After driving his car into a group of pedestrians, he began attacking people with a butcher knife, according to Monica Moll, OSU’s public safety director. Just minutes after the attack started, Artan was shot and killed by OSU police officer Alan Horujko who, by happenstance, was in the immediate area assisting firefighters with a reported gas leak. Eleven people were injured by Artan’s rampage, but all are expected to survive.
Since the attack, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as well as local police in Columbus, Ohio have been aggressively investigating the incident, in part to determine if it was a terrorist act by the perpetrator, who is Muslim.
Here’s what we know so far about Abdul Razak Ali Artan:
1He May Have Been Inspired by ISIS
Investigators now believe that knife attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan may have been inspired or at least influenced by terrorist propaganda from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In particular, he may have been persuaded by online information from and about the deceased Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, say at least two law enforcement sources.
These sources base their claim on the fact that the attacker had referred to al-Awlaki in social media posts prior to his attack. U.S. government experts about terrorist groups say al-Awlaki was a senior recruiter and motivator involved in planning terrorist attacks for al-Qaeda before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
Investigative sources have also pointed out that the method of attack — using a vehicle and a knife — involved weapons recommended by ISIS. ISIS came forward the following day to claim credit for Artan’s rampage. But Angela L. Byers, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Cincinnati, said ISIS often does this “after the assailant is deceased and cannot refute that.”
However, Byers went on to say,
“It appears that Artan may have at least been inspired by Anwar Awlaki and the Islamic State.”
2He Was Angry about the Lack of Muslim Prayer Rooms at OSU
OSU knife attacker Abdul Razak Ali Artan had recently transferred to OSU from nearby Columbus State Community College. Last August Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, interviewed Artan for its “Humans of Ohio State” series, which featured articles about OSU students. During that interview, Artan described how he struggled to find a place for peaceful Muslim prayer on campus. He told the student reporter,
“I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media.”
Artan compared OSU to Columbus State, as follows:
“[At Columbus State] we had prayer rooms, like actual rooms where we could go pray because we Muslims have to pray five times a day.”
But at OSU, he said,
“I don’t even know where to pray.” He continued, “I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen.”
3He Was Angry about Reported Abuses of Muslims in Myanmar
Artan was particularly angry about reports of violence against Muslims in Myanmar (also known as Burma). The situation in that country is, according to United Nations officials, one of “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority” who are members of the Rohingya Muslim sect. Although Myanmar claims to be committed to international anti-discrimination policies, the country’s laws do oppress certain minority groups, including the Rohingya.
In October 2015, investigations by Muslim news agency Al Jazeera alleged evidence of genocide against the Rohingya by the Myanmar government. Al Jazeera also claimed that Myanmar government agents have helped provoke anti-Muslim riots through hate speech and hiring thugs to agitate crowds against the Rohingya. Artan wrote on the day of the attack,
“Seeing my fellow Muslims being tortured, raped and killed in Burma led to a boiling point,”.
4He Made a Threat on Facebook on the Day of the Attack
Minutes before the attack, Artan gave hints of what was coming in an anti-American rant on Facebook. “I can’t take it anymore,” he wrote in the first paragraph of his post. He went on to write,
“America! Stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah.”
Ummah is an Arabic word meaning “community.” Artan then continued,
“We are not weak. We are not weak, remember that.”
He also referred to “lone wolf” attacks just minutes after his Facebook rant. The post was reported on by ABC News, but Artan’s Facebook page was soon taken down. However, CNN reporter Jake Tapper released the text of the post on Twitter.
5Law Enforcement Officials Believe He Was a “Lone Wolf”
In the immediate aftermath of Artan’s rampage, some questioned whether he’d been a member of a terrorist cell. Indeed, in the hours after the attack, investigators searched the OSU campus for accomplices. But they are now convinced Artan acted alone. Artan posted on Facebook just minutes before the violence began.,
“If you want us Muslims to stop carrying [out] lone wolf attacks, then make peace. . . ,”
The FBI’s Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Angela L. Byers believes Artan did act alone. Special Agent Byers noted,
“At this time, we are not aware of anyone else being involved in the planning of this attack.”