UPDATE: Gunman who ambushed Fargo police had a ‘binary trigger’ that let him fire rapidly

Investigators say they have no evidence at this time that indicates a further threat to the community.
Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 8:36 AM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - A gunman who ambushed police officers in Fargo last week had a “binary trigger” that allowed him to fire rapidly, authorities said Friday.

The .223-caliber rifle that Mohamad Barakat used in his July 14 attack sounded like an automatic weapon because of how quickly it fired, state Attorney General Drew Wrigley said at a news conference.

Barakat killed one officer and wounded two others and a civilian before the fourth officer at the scene shot and killed him. Wrigley said the wounded officers fell in quick succession. Police were investigating a routine traffic crash on a busy Fargo street when the heavily-armed Barakat opened fire on them before they could react.

Investigators say they have no evidence at this time that indicates a further threat to the community.

Barakat had been studying mass casualty events for several years, and most recently was researching local events happening in the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo and surrounding areas.

Mohamed Barakat
Mohamed Barakat(Valley News Live)

Timeline of Events:

Wrigley says the crash happened at 2:42 p.m. The Fargo Fire Department was the first on scene at 2:48 and Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes arrived on scene at 2:49 p.m. Minutes later, the suspect was seen driving northbound on 25th Street. He took a left turn onto 9th Avenue and pulled into a parking lot adjacent to the crash on 25th Street.

Investigators say Barakat sat in his vehicle facing 25th Street and observed the crash scene and movements of the police officers. Barakat pulled into the Big Top Bingo parking lot where he sat in his vehicle for several minutes. He then drove into a nearby mobile home park and was out of the view of surveillance video for several minutes, before returning to the parking lot.

At 3:03 p.m. is when Officers Zach Robinson and Jake Wallin arrive at the crash scene. Officials are working to clear the road, so the vehicle that was rear-ended is pulled into the parking lot next to the suspect’s vehicle. Wrigley says the people in the crash get out to look at the damage to their vehicle, while waiting for police to come and talk to them.

Officers Jake Wallin, Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes begin to make their way to the parking lot to speak with the people involved in the crash. At this time, Barakat continues to sit in his vehicle with the windows down and a long rifle sitting on the seat next to him. The back windows on Barakat’s vehicle were spray painted. When the officers are approximately 10-15 feet away, Barakat opens fire on the officers and Wrigley says it happened so quickly that the officers didn’t have a chance to access their service weapons.

Officer Zach Robinson was still on 25th Street and told investigators he believed it was automatic fire, but it was later determined Barakat’s rifle had binary trigger. “Everything you hit, you hit twice,” Wrigley said when speaking about the binary trigger.

Robinson immediately called for assistance and then began to engage in gunfire with Barakat. Wrigley says Barakat is not hit in that exchange of gunfire; he gets out of the driver’s seat and runs around the back of his vehicle.

At this time, a woman in the area, Karlee Koswick, runs for cover. When Barakat sees her move, he shoots her. Wrigley says in that moment is when Officer Robinson fired again and incapacitated the suspect’s rifle. Robinson continued to close in on the suspect and ordered 16 times for Barakat to drop the gun and put his hands up.

Wrigley says it was less than two minutes from when Officers Wallin and Robinson arrived on scene before gunfire erupted. At 3:06 p.m., Officer Robinson shot Mohamed Barakat. He was handcuffed and taken into custody. Officials say he died later on July 14.

“Zach Robinson was indeed the last man standing. He was standing between, not just the horrible events that happened there, but the horrible events that Mohamed Barakat had planned that day,” said Wrigley.

Details of the Investigation:

Once Mohamed Barakat was taken down, the bomb squad was called in for searches of the suspect vehicle and residence. Wrigley says the bomb squad K9 hit on the vehicle and at Barakat’s apartment. Investigators say the following items were found inside the vehicle at the scene of the shooting: 3 containers fill with gas, 2 propane tanks filled with homemade explosives, a homemade grenade, 4 semi-automatic handguns and 3 semi-automatic long rifles. The gun used to shoot the officers and civilian had a binary trigger.

A search warrant was obtained for Barakat’s residence and the FBI was on standby to execute the search of his apartment. Wrigley says they discovered two shotguns, a Remington deer rifle, a .223 rifle, handguns, live ammunition, a variety of grenade parts, several trail cameras, several phones and a computer.

Forensics experts with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation say Mohamed Barakat has no social media presence and appears to have had very little interaction with people. Wrigley and the U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota both said, they have no evidence at this time that indicates a further threat to the community.

Investigators say Barakat had been reading about other mass shooting events around the country, and researching local events in the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding areas. His online searches about mass violence go back as far as 2018. The final online search Barakat made on Thursday, July 13, was about thousands of people attending the Downtown Fargo Street Fair.

Wrigley said with the evidence they have so far, they believe Barakat may have been planning to bring his guns, ammunition, and explosives to execute a mass casualty event at the Downtown Fargo Street Fair or the Red River Valley Fair. As he was heading north on 25th Street, he could have turned right to go downtown or left to go to West Fargo.

“A murderous individual who was set on hurting and killing as many as people as possible,” said Fargo Police Chief Dave Zibolski when speaking about Barakat. Zibolski also commended police officers in his department for their courage and bravery.

“They took bullets that others in our community likely would have taken, they did the very best to keep our community safe,” Zibolski said.

Zibolski said they are evaluating special events within the city and are considering what can be done to add safety measures in the future. He also urges community members to come forward if they notice something that may be of concern.

“The reality also is, there’s evil in the world. This guy was one of them. He is an evil individual,” Zibolski said.

July 21 is the first time officials have released a photo of Mohamed Barakat. Officials say he is a Syrian national who came to the United States in 2012. Barakat became a U.S. citizen in 2019. Investigators say it appears Barakat was working off and on at different jobs, and over the years he has been researching mass casualty events and collecting weaponry. His name appeared on what officials call a “Guardian Report,” but they clarified the tip received was not about a threat of violence.

Wrigley says Mohamed Barakat was not on the terrorist watch list and all of the firearms appear to have been purchased legally. Investigators say he appears to have no ties to the local Muslim community. He has family living in the United States, but not in the local area. Wrigley says Barakat’s family has been spoken to, but they do not appear to have had a lot of communication with Barakat.

Attorney General Drew Wrigley said anyone who may have information about Mohamed Barakat is encouraged to contact the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 701-328-5500.

Wrigley says this remains an active investigation and more information will be released as it becomes available. He said we can expect to see body camera footage of the Fargo Police officers at some point in this investigation.

Police Chief Dave Zibolski provided a bit of good news with all of the chaos the department has been dealing with. He says Officers Andrew Dotas and Tyler Hawes were both able to stand up for the first time on Thursday, July 20. The bystander who was shot, Karlee Koswick, also has a long road to recovery ahead.