Ambush of Fargo police could have been start of community mass shooting, attorney general says

20 July 2023

FARGO Authorities believe a Fargo man who killed a police officer in a “murderous, unprovoked” ambush planned to initiate a mass shooting, possibly at a crowded street fair in downtown.

Fargo Police Officer Zach Robinson was justified in shooting and killing Mohamad Barakat, 37, who opened fire on officers responding to a routine crash on Friday, July 14, at 25th Street and Ninth Avenue South in Fargo, North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley said Wednesday during a news conference at City Hall.

“Mohamad Barakat engaged in a savage attack,” Wrigley said. “He unleashed what can only be described fairly as a murderous barrage of fire.”

The shooting that lasted roughly two minutes killed 23-year-old Officer Jake Wallin and injured his colleagues, 22-year-old Tyler Hawes and 28-year-old Andrew Dotas. Barakat also turned his gun on Karlee Koswick, a Boston-area woman who recently moved to Fargo, as she stood on the sidewalk, Wrigley said.

Koswick, who remains hospitalized from a gunshot wound, was involved in the crash police responded to before the shooting. Barakat was not involved in the crash, authorities said.

Dotas and Hawes remain hospitalized in critical but stable condition.

The shooting ended after Robinson, who gave Barakat multiple commands to drop his weapon, fatally shot the assailant, Wrigley said.

“The full review of these facts and circumstances make it so clear that it was reasonable, it was justified, and it was lawful in every possible way,” Wrigley said of Robinson’s use of deadly force.

Until Wednesday, few details were released about the shooting. Wrigley laid out facts of the shooting, how officers responded and what was found in Barakat’s possession.

Investigators found three long rifles, 1,800 rounds of .223 caliber ammunition, a homemade grenade, a can of gasoline, explosives and other firearms in Barakat’s car, Wrigley said. While he didn’t comment on the specific target, Wrigley said he believed Barakat intended to cause more carnage somewhere else in the community.

Robinson was the “last man standing” between the community and Barakat, “who was obviously pretty dead-set on some pretty horrific acts,” Fargo Police Chief David Zibolski said. He said the specific target was unknown as of Wednesday.

“Certainly, this individual had at his disposal the weaponry and the intent and the commitment to place great carnage on our community, but for the acts of Zachary Robinson,” Zibolski said.

Thousands of people were gathered downtown on Friday for the annual street fair. Crowds of others were at the Red River Valley Fair.

Wrigley said he planned to hold a news conference on Friday, July 21, that would reveal more details about Barakat, including his origin, intentions and why authorities know where he was headed. He also said he would release more information on the crash.

“It’s a four or five minute drive to downtown Fargo, and we’ll discuss Friday why we have reason to believe we knew where he was headed,” Wrigley said. “It would have been a catastrophic situation that he would have manufactured but for the training, expertise and bravery of a police department.”

Two minutes of gunfire

Wallin, Dotas, Hawes and Robinson were dispatched at 2:43 p.m. Friday to the crash, according to dispatch logs. About 24 minutes later, Barakat opened fire, shooting his long rifle at the officers from his vehicle, Wrigley said.

Barakat pulled into the scene “nonchalantly,” Wrigley said, where first responders were already gathered. He drove around, casing the situation, before parking his car and waiting several minutes until the officers walked near him, Wrigley said.

At that point, Barakat raised his rapid-fire weapon and began firing at officers. After Barakat shot Wallin, Dotas and Hawes from his vehicle, he took aim at and shot bystander Koswick as she tried to flee, Wrigley said.

Barakat had a double-stacked magazine, or two magazines side-by-side, in his rifle, with the capacity to shoot 60 bullets, Wrigley said.

“And most were (fired),” Wrigley said, noting Barakat shot almost 40 rounds before Robinson “incapacitated” the shooter.

The gunshots were so rapid that Robinson believed Barakat was shooting a fully automatic weapon, Wrigley said. During the shooting, Robinson had the “presence of mind” to call dispatchers and ask for backup, the attorney general said.

“He called in. He said, ‘We have three officers down. Send everybody,'” Wrigley said. “And send everybody they did.”

At some point, Barakat exited the vehicle and crouched behind it.

Armed with a handgun, Robinson initially started firing at Barakat before moving out from behind a police vehicle, Wrigley said. From about 75 feet away, one of Robinson’s shots disabled Barakat’s long rifle, Wrigley said.

“But Barakat wasn’t done,” Wrigley said.

Lying on the ground, Barakat rearmed himself with a 9 mm handgun before other officers could arrive, Wrigley said. Despite 16 directives from Robinson to drop the gun and raise his hands, Barakat refused to put down the firearm, Wrigley said.

A wounded Barakat continued to wave his handgun behind his car, Wrigley said. Robinson eventually moved behind Barakat’s car and gave a last command for the shooter to drop his weapon.

When Barakat still refused to drop the gun, Robinson “neutralized” the threat, Wrigley said.

“He showed incredible restraint, at risk to himself,” Wrigley said.

The attorney general said Barakat could not have known about the crash.

“It was a pure fate moment that he happened upon this scene and all of these officers are out there,” Wrigley said.

Officer body camera footage of the shooting, which Wrigley’s office reviewed in deciding that the killing of Barakat was justified, will be released at a later date, Wrigley said.

What investigators found

The attorney general showed photos of Barakat’s car, as well as weapons found in the vehicle. The car, parked in a lot near the crash, had what appeared to be a red gas container and blue barrel in the back seat. A pair of sunglasses was seen on the ground near the rear tire.

A homemade hand grenade appeared to have a fuse coming out of it, and it was “operable,” Wrigley said.

Another photo showed what appeared to be three rapid-fire rifles, including two with scopes. The photo of items found in Barakat’s vehicle showed about 1,800 rounds, roughly 60 .223-caliber magazines, four handguns, two knifes, a vest and belts. Some of the magazines had American flag stickers.

Wrigley said he didn’t know the significance of the American flag stickers on the magazines, and the vest was not bulletproof but had loaded magazines in every pocket.

Authorities believe the guns were legally obtained, Wrigley said, adding that Barakat was not prohibited under law from owning a firearm.

Little is known about Barakat. He lived in Fargo at least since 2018, when he was issued a traffic ticket.

The North Dakota Department of Transportation has his driver’s license photo, which was not immediately released to the public. Authorities have not been able to find any other photos of Barakat, Wrigley said.

A background check revealed no criminal history for Barakat. The Fargo Police Department denied The Forum’s public records request for incident reports mentioning Barakat.

‘Back the blue!’

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney called the shooting an ambush, adding that the city likely would have seen many more injuries and deaths if Robinson didn’t stop Barakat.

“When you look at the amount of ammunition this shooter had in his car, he was planning more mayhem in our community,” Mahoney said. “It’s clear to me that this person was out to kill.”

Robinson’s quick action was credited by Zibolski on Saturday as the reason further harm wasn’t done by the gunman. The chief said all the officers involved, including Robinson, Wallin, Dotas and Hawes, are heroes.

Officers couldn’t have done anything more to prevent the shooting, Mahoney said. Robinson did what he was trained to do, and two minutes was as quick as he could have ended the shooting, Zibolski said.

“(Barakat) left officer Robinson with no other choice but to ultimately fatally shoot him and stop that threat,” Zibolski said. “Had he not done that, or had officer Robinson not succeeded in what he was going to do, the likelihood that other people in our community would have been harmed was very high.”

Following the attack, Robinson is holding up very well, Wrigley said. The attorney general said he met with Robinson just before the press conference and assured him that he has reviewed the “mass” of evidence in the case, including video and photos, and considered all the facts in making his decision.

Wrigley called Robinson’s actions courageous. He also thanked the Fargo Fire Department and other emergency responders for aiding in responding to the shooting.

In an emotional plea to North Dakota, Wrigley asked residents to be worthy of the work officers like Robinson do. He called for a culture that protects officers instead of attacking them.

“Don’t just go to their funerals,” Wrigley said. “Don’t just show up to the peace officer’s memorial. Don’t just seek their support when you need it. Back the blue!”

He also said North Dakota’s laws should be worthy of the risk officers take while doing their jobs. Wrigley backed a set of bills this legislative session that would have made criminal penalties harsher for those convicted of violent, gun-related crimes and offenses against officers.

The North Dakota Legislature ultimately gutted the proposal, turning it into a study about which people should be prohibited from owning firearms.

Wrigley acknowledged Barakat was not previously involved in violent crime, but said that repeat offenders are becoming more common. He said reform to prevent recidivism is needed, but noted there was a time when those who attacked officers were dealt with harshly.

“Some people need to be extracted from our communities for long periods of time to protect the public,” Wrigley said.

Forum reporters C.S. Hagen and Paige Naughton contributed to this report.]]>

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