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Man who killed 1 Fargo officer, hurt 2, was interviewed about guns in 2021 after tip, FBI says

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By JACK DURA and AMY FORLITI (Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The heavily armed man who killed one Fargo police officer and wounded two as they were investigating a traffic stop earlier this month had been interviewed about his guns in 2021 after the FBI received a tip, but it was determined he had done nothing illegal and no further action was taken, authorities said Thursday.

In a statement in response to questions from The Associated Press, the FBI and Fargo Police Department said the FBI received an anonymous tip about Mohamad Barakat in July 2021 in which the tipster expressed concern about Barakat’s mental state, saying he had access to a “ significant number of firearms ” and had used threatening language.

The FBI forwarded the information to the Fargo Police Department. The statement says Fargo detectives made three visits to Barakat’s apartment over the next two weeks. They didn’t make contact with him until the third visit, in which they observed several firearms in the apartment, but none were illegal, the statement said.

In an interview, Barakat “denied any ill-intentions,” according to the statement. “The FBI takes all tips and concerns brought to its attention seriously, especially those related to potential threats to public safety and well-being. As there was no evidence of any ongoing illegal activities or indications of an imminent threat, it was determined that no further action could be taken.”

Barakat killed Officer Jake Wallin, 23, and wounded Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes in an ambush after they responded to a routine traffic crash July 14. Another officer shot and killed Barakat, stopping what authorities believe could have been a much bigger attack.

A search of Barakat’s apartment after the shooting revealed that over the last five years, he had searched the internet for terms including “kill fast,” “explosive ammo,” “incendiary rounds,” and “mass shooting events,” state Attorney General Drew Wrigley said last week. On the night before the shooting, Barakat also searched for “area events where there are crowds,” which brought up a news article with the headline “Thousands enjoy first day of Downtown Fargo Street Fair.”

Had Officer Zach Robinson not killed Barakat, 37, authorities said the attack might have been much worse. All evidence suggests that Barakat came upon the traffic crash by coincidence and that his ambush was a diversion from his much bigger intended target, Wrigley said.

On the day of the attack, the downtown fair was in its second day and was less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the crash scene. It’s unclear if it was the intended target, though, as Barakat also searched for information on the Red River Valley Fair, which was just a 6-mile (10-kilometer) drive from the scene, the attorney general said.

After the shooting, police discovered Barakat’s car was loaded with guns, a homemade grenade, more than 1,800 rounds of ammunition, three “largish” containers full of gasoline, plus two propane tanks, one completely filled and the other half-filled with homemade explosive materials, Wrigley said.

The rifle he used had a binary trigger that allowed it to fire so rapidly that it sounded like an automatic weapon, Wrigley said. A binary trigger is a modification that allows a weapon to fire one round when the trigger is pulled and another when it is released — in essence doubling a gun’s firing capacity.

The statement provided Thursday said the July 2021 tip came into the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center. The caller did not provide any details about any threats that Barakat might have made, and did not indicate that he had violated any laws.

Diana Freedman, an FBI spokesperson in Minneapolis, said the tip is what led to Barakat’s listing on the Guardian Threat Tracking System.

The FBI routinely opens what it refers to internally as assessments — the lowest level, least intrusive and most elementary stage of a terrorism-related inquiry — when it receives unconfirmed information about potentially suspicious behavior.

That information is catalogued in the Guardian system. During the assessment stage of an investigation, FBI agents are permitted to take certain basic investigative steps such as conducting online research or visual surveillance, but more sophisticated tools such as wiretaps cannot be undertaken without additional evidence of wrongdoing.

A Fargo city spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email query from the AP regarding the 2021 police visit to Barakat.

Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said previously that he believed police had some prior contact with Barakat “but not anything significant.”

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 Barakat had some family in the U.S. but not in the Fargo area. He appears to have no ties to the Muslim community in Fargo.

In recent years, Barakat amassed his arsenal. 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.

Wrigley said previously that it appears all of Barakat’s weapons were bought legally. He also 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.”

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Dura reported from Bismarck, North Dakota.

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