Local law enforcement sources identify Mohamed Noor, one of few Somali-Americans on Minneapolis force, as officer who opened fire on Australian woman
The officer implicated in the fatal police shooting of Australian national Justine Damond in Minneapolis has issued a statement extending his condolences to her family, as senior local law enforcement sources confirmed to the Guardian that Mohamed Noor, an officer with only two years’ experience, opened fire on the unarmed 40-year-old.
Noor is one of a small handful of Somali Americans on the Minneapolis force and comes from the city’s substantial Somali community – the largest in America – that has frequently been maligned in the rightwing press.
The circumstances of Damond’s death remain unclear as police have declined to provide detailed information. But the Hennepin County medical examiner confirmed on Monday that Damond died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
The yoga and meditation instructor, who had moved to the US in 2015, called 911 late on Saturday evening to report a possible sexual assault close to her home. According to local reports, she approached the driver’s side window of the attending police squad car, dressed in her pyjamas. Noor opened fire from the passenger seat, firing across his partner. The officer did not have his body camera turned on.
On Tuesday, Noor’s lawyer Thomas Plunkett, a local criminal defense attorney, issued a statement saying the officer “extends his condolences to the family and anyone else who has been touched by this event”.
“He takes their loss seriously and keeps them in his daily thoughts and prayers,” the statement added. Plunkett did not confirm that Noor was the officer who had opened fire. The Minneapolis police department has not named Noor publicly.
On Monday, Damond’s American fiance, Don Damond, with whom the Australian had been living in the Minneapolis suburb where the shooting took place, expressed frustration that police had withheld detailed information on the incident.
“We have lost the dearest of people and we are desperate for information,” Damond told reporters.
The incident threatens to ignite tensions in Minneapolis on a number of fronts. The city is still recovering from the high-profile police shooting of Philando Castile, a black man killed by an officer in the neighbouring city of St Paul. The aftermath of the shooting was streamed live on Facebook and video evidence showed Castile had been shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez after he declared he had licensed firearm in his vehicle. Yanez was acquitted in a criminal trial last month.
But the fact that Noor comes from the city’s Somali population has left community leaders concerned over a potential backlash. A handful of young Somali men from Minneapolis have escaped the country to fight for the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab in Somalia and for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Relations between the community and law enforcement have been strained for a number of years: last year, a group of young Somalis who attempted to leave the US for Syria were convicted in a terror trial amid claims of FBI entrapment.
The hiring of Noor, who joined around four Somali-American officers on the Minneapolis PD, was heralded as a major success in expanding the diversity of the force. Noor was the first Somali-American officer to patrol in the city’s fifth precinct and was welcomed into the force personally by the city’s mayor.
Mohamud Noor, executive director of the Confederations of the Somali Community in Minnesota, said the diaspora was “shocked” at Damond’s death.
“Any time there is a loss of life, people get shocked, especially when the police are involved,” said Noor, who is not related to the officer.
Midway through an interview with the Guardian, Noor said he had received an anonymous threatening voicemail, something he described as a “regular process” after events involving members of the community that receive media attention.
“He’s a police officer, no matter what race he comes from,” Noor said. “This is a tragic incident, there is a loss of life.”
- This story was amended on 18 July 2017 to clarify in the headline that the officer offered condolences, not an apology
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