COLUMBUS, Ohio — President-elect Donald Trump visited Ohio State University on Thursday afternoon to meet survivors of an attack that stunned the campus last month.
Trump spoke with victims in private and also met with the Ohio State police officer who killed the attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an Ohio State student who drove a Honda sedan through a crowd outside a school building before emerging from the vehicle and slashing at people with a butcher knife. Trump said the meeting was an “honor.” School officials said Trump also met privately with Ohio State President Michael Drake.
“This is a great honor for me today,” Trump told reporters after his meeting. “We’re in a fantastic state that I love, Ohio. And we just saw the victims and the families. These were really brave people, amazing people. The police and first responders were incredible. The job — in particular by one young gentlemen — was incredible. I got to meet him, and he was very brave.”
“The families have done so well to come through this so well,” Trump said. “And so, a lot of respect.”
The FBI and local investigators are still working to determine what led Artan to the sudden violence, which left 13 people wounded. Authorities have said it appears that Artan — who they described as a self-radicalized Somali Muslim refugee — planned the attack but that those close to him apparently knew nothing of it ahead of time. Alan Horujko, an Ohio State police officer, shot and killed Artan almost immediately after the attack began.
Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said that Trump requested the meeting with victims of the attack and first responders who provided aid at the scene. He visited them at the Schottenstein Center, home to the Ohio State basketball team, across the Olentangy River from the campus’ academic core.
“Our nation’s leaders routinely make visits to Ohio State,” Davey said. “The university works to welcome these visits while minimizing disruption to the campus community.”
Before Trump arrived at the arena, about 50 protesters gathered amid blustery winds and snow flurries to show their opposition to the president-elect’s visit, which they said was for political gain. With classes canceled Thursday in preparation for the semester’s final exams, the crowd of students marched through campus waving signs that read, “No Hate at Ohio State,” and “Buckeyes Against Bigotry.”
They chanted: “OH-IO, Donald Trump has got to go!”
The International Socialist Organization – Columbus, one of the groups protesting on Thursday, said on its Facebook page that it wanted to show Trump that he is not welcome on campus. “We reject the exploitation of a tragic event on our campus and the disrespect of our fellow students’ pain for Trump’s racist political purposes,” the group wrote.
Muslim students and leaders in Columbus said that the presidential campaign led to increased tensions on campus and in the surrounding community. In an interview with The Lantern student newspaper on the first day of classes in August, Artan expressed concerns about publicly displaying his Muslim faith during prayer times.
“I wanted to pray in the open, but I was scared with everything going on in the media,” Artan said, referring to recent incidents of Islamophobia. He also said in that interview that he had concerns about then-candidate Trump’s views and rhetoric on Islam and immigrants.
Artan’s late November attack sent shock waves across campus and throughout greater Columbus, home to one of the largest African immigrant communities in the country. Artan, a Somali who law enforcement officials said immigrated to the U.S. in 2014 after living for years in Pakistan, allegedly posted an online statement of support for Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Islamic cleric killed in a 2011 drone strike but whose fiery sermons remain online as his digital legacy.
In the aftermath of the assault, the Islamic State claimed Artan as one of its “soldiers,” but U.S. authorities and experts said they don’t believe he had any direct connection to the terrorist group. Officials said that Artan appeared to be self-radicalized, and family and friends said they had no indication of the attack before it happened. FBI officials told The Post that Artan was unknown to the bureau before the attack.
Trump tweeted after the assault that “ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing” and that Artan was “a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country.”
After the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., Trump issued a statement during his presidential campaign “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
He later said the nation should employ “extreme vetting” for immigrants and refugees who aim to settle in the United States from countries with large Muslim populations.
William Clark, an Ohio State professor emeritus of materials engineering who was injured in the attack, told The Post that he’s still recuperating from his wounds and was not planning to attend the meeting with Trump on Thursday. He also said that he’s reserving judgment about Artan’s motives.
“I wasn’t going to jump in and say he did this because he was a jihadist terrorist,” Clark said. “There may be a lot more to it than that . . . What else might have sent him over the edge for him to decide to do it? I don’t think we know yet.”
Jibril Mohamed, an Ohio State lecturer on Somali language and culture, said that Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims had worried members of the immigrant community in Columbus for some time. Participants in prayers at a mosque near Artan’s family home said they fear a backlash against Muslims as Trump prepares to take office.
“It’s unfortunate that a leader such as the president-elect would say things like that, that could motivate people who have hatred to act maybe violently,” Mohamed said. “My fear is that a person who has hatred for Muslims or a hatred for immigrants might decide to do something harmful.”
Shapiro reported from Washington.