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Investigators are looking into whether the machete-wielding man who slashed four people in a Columbus, Ohio, restaurant attacked the eatery in the mistaken belief that the owner was Jewish, sources told NBC News on Friday.
The owner, Hany Baransi, is actually an Arab Christian from Haifa, Israel, his daughter said.
The attacker — identified by several NBC News law enforcement sources as Mohamed Barry — had asked a worker at the Nazareth Restaurant and Deli where the owner was from, investigators said.
“Obviously we were targeted because there’s a whole bunch of businesses around here,” Baransi told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’m the only foreigner.”
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"I am the minor, minor, minor of the minority," he told the newspaper. "So nobody likes me."
Police did not divulge a possible motive for Thursday's bloody attack, which ended when the slasher was shot dead by cops after leading them on a five-mile car chase through the city. The FBI has joined in the investigation. Investigators are looking into whether the attack is a case of homegrown extremism.
"There was no rhyme or reason as to who he was going after," Columbus Police Sgt. Rich Weiner told NBC affiliate WCMH. The suspect "immediately began swinging a machete at customers and employees" upon entering the restaurant.
Nobody inside the restaurant interviewed by officers recognized the attacker.
"Right now there’s nothing that leads us to believe that this is anything but just a random attack," Weiner said.
Weiner confirmed that the suspect had been at the Mediterranean restaurant before the attack and spoke with an employee, but he would not reveal what the man said during that conversation.
"The second time, nothing was said," Weiner said. "He just simply came in and started the attack."
In a 911 call released by police, the dispatcher makes reference to "a male Muslim in a head scarf and blue shirt." It was not immediately clear if she was referring to the suspect.
Baransi told the Columbus Dispatch the only reason he was not in the restaurant is that he had gone home that evening with a migraine.
“The one night I leave early this happens,” Baransi told the newspaper, adding that he had not taken a night off since Jan. 2. “I feel so guilty for leaving my people.”
Baransi identified one of the victims as musician Bill Foley, who regularly performs at the restaurant.
“I wish that guy attacked me,” he said. “Bill is gentle. He would not hurt a fly.”
It was dinnertime when the slasher attacked. Patrons fought back, hurling chairs at the intruder, who then fled in a white Toyota Corolla. When cops cornered him, the suspect "lunged across the hood" with a machete and knife in his hand, Weiner said.
Police fired a Taser stun gun to try and stop him, Weiner said. When that didn't work, they fired their guns multiple times. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police have not released the names of the other victims. One was critically injured but expected to recover after undergoing emergency surgery.
The restaurant is normally packed on Thursday nights,worker Micki Zakas told NBC affiliate WCMH.
Zackas arrived at the scene after the mayhem, and said she was shocked at the rampage because the owner has a "great reputation" and "everybody leaves here with a smile."