A 30-year-old man is being held on several charges after police said he attacked a police officer Saturday night in downtown Edmonton before running over several pedestrians while fleeing from officers in a U-Haul truck.
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, 30, an Edmonton resident of Somali origin, has been identified as the suspect in the likely terror attacks, the CBC reports. He is in police custody, but authorities have declined to confirm his identity.
The first incident happened about 8:15 p.m. Saturday as an officer stood guard near a CFL football game. The suspect struck the officer with a car, and then got out and attacked him with a knife before fleeing on foot. About midnight, the suspect fled from a traffic stop in a U-Haul truck and led officers on a police chase, striking five pedestrians before crashing and being taken into custody.
“The Edmonton Police Service has arrested a 30-year-old Edmonton man in connection with a violent crime spree, which saw an EPS officer struck with a car and viciously stabbed, and four pedestrians deliberately struck with a different vehicle later Saturday evening,” police said in a press release. “The EPS and the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) are now investigating the incidents as an Act of Terrorism under Section. 82.3 of the Criminal Code of Canada.”
Little is known about Abdulahi Sharif so far, here is what we do know and what we know about the attacks:
1. An ISIS Flag Was Found Inside the Car Belonging to the Suspect, Who Is a Refugee From Somalia
An ISIS flag was found inside the suspect’s car, the CBC reports. Police confirmed that detail, but have not released further information, including whether they believe the suspect had contact with ISIS fighters overseas, or if he was inspired to commit the attacks in Edmonton on their behalf. The so-called Islamic State has often encouraged its followers to commit attacks through any means possible, including random stabbings and by using vehicles as weapons.
“EPS members arrested and took a male suspect we believe to be responsible for these acts of violence into custody earlier this morning,” Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said in a statement. “We ask that our citizens remain vigilant and observant of their surroundings, and contact police should they notice any other unusual activities around the city.”
The suspect, identified by multiple media outlets as Abdulahi Sharif, is originally from Somalia and has refugee status in Canada, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand. He initially said the suspect was a refugee claimant, meaning he was going through the process to gain refugee status, but authorities later corrected that, confirming the suspect already completed that process, CTV reports.
The assistant commissioner said investigators know when Sharif came to Canada, but declined to reveal that information publicly because of the ongoing investigation.
Degrand said authorities made the decision to treat the case as possible terrorism because of “the totality of the information,” including “the nature of the incident, the nature of the evidence found at the initial scene and the actions of the suspect.”
Police would not provide information about other evidence that was found, other than the ISIS flag. When asked if they could confirm that a manifesto with anti-Semitic writing was found during the investigation, Degrand and Knecht declined to answer. That is “information we have to be a little careful about, because we do have to guard the integrity of the court process going forward,” Degrand told reporters at a press conference. You can watch the full press conference below:
Investigators have not found any evidence that the suspect was in contact with anyone locally or elsewhere during the planning and execution of the attacks, Degrand said, but he added the investigation is in the early stages.
The investigation is “fluid” and ongoing, authorities said.
“Anyone with information about these violent incidents are urged to contact the EPS at 780-423-4567 or #377 from a mobile phone. Anonymous information can also be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.tipsubmit.com/start.htm.,” police said.
2. Sharif Was Investigated in 2015 for ‘Espousing Extremist Ideology,’ but Was Deemed to Not Be a ‘Threat to the National Security of Canada’
Abdulahi Sharif was known to authorities before the attack, Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht told reporters Sunday. But Knecht said there was no warning that an attack could be coming.
Public Safety Minister, Ralph Goodale, said Sunday that Sharif was on a “police watch list,” the CBC reports.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in a news conference on Sunday in Regina that the suspect, who is in police custody, was on a “police watch list” before the attacks.
“The individual had apparently some appearance on a police watch list, but that is a detail of the investigation that the authorities will pursue in the appropriate way. There are no conclusions that can be drawn at the current time,” Goodale told reporters.
At a later press conference, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand said that Sharif was investigated by the RCMP in 2015 after a complaint was made that he was “espousing extremist ideology.” Sharif and others were interviewed by investigators. At the end of the “exhaustive investigation,” police found there was “insufficient evidence” to pursue terrorism charges or a peace bond, Degrand said.
He said that the suspect was “deemed not to pose a threat to the national security of Canada.” Degrand said the investigation found no signs the suspect would commit an act of violence.
“Up until yesterday he had no negative interactions of a criminal nature with police,” Degrand said.
He was not under active investigation or under surveillance, Degrand said.
“Like any other citizen, we have files that we keep if we’re engaged in an investigation around them,” Degrand said, adding that they passed on information about him to Edmonton Police and other intelligence agencies around Alberta and the country. “No active investigation that flowed from that. … We have to have a reasonable suspicion or have to have actions or activities that would warrant (a person being) under law investigation. (We) didn’t have sufficient evidence to continue the investigation.”
3. Surveillance Video Shows the Officer Being Struck by a Car, Thrown Into the Air & Then Attacked by the Suspect
Edmonton Police have released a graphic video showing a police officer being struck by a car and then stabbed in what investigators believe to be a terror attack, the CBC reports.
The police officer was at a barricade near Commonwealth Stadium in downtown Edmonton about 8:15 p.m. Saturday while a Canadian Football League game was being played between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bomber.
“The uniformed officer was standing behind a traffic barricade and in front of his police vehicle at an intersection near 107A Avenue and 92 Street, just southwest of Commonwealth (football) Stadium,” police said in a press release. “Suddenly, and without provocation, a male driving a white Chevrolet Malibou crashed through the traffic barricades that were separating vehicles from pedestrians, at a high rate of speed.”
The video, which you can watch above, shows the car speeding towards the officer and then hitting him, sending him flying through the air and onto a sidewalk. Bystanders are then seen running to provide aid, as the driver of the car gets out and moves toward the officer. The bystanders can then be seen running away, and police say that was because the driver started to stab the officer. After a struggle, the suspect fled on foot.
Police said the car sent the officer “flying 15 feet through the air” before he was attacked by the suspect, who had a “large knife.”
“A male believed to be 30 years old then jumped out of his vehicle and viciously attacked the Edmonton Police Service member with a knife,” Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said at a press conference. “A struggle then ensued, during which the male suspect stabbed the officer several times before fleeing the scene on foot, northbound down 92nd Street.”
The officer was hospitalized, but his injuries were life-threatening and he was released from the hospital Sunday. He has been identified as Constable Mike Chernyk, an 11-year veteran of the police force, CTV reports.
Charnyk was in “good spirits” at his home Sunday, Knecht said, but suffered substantial injuries, including stab wounds to the face and head from the knife attack and significant abrasions to his arms from being struck by the car.
“He was in a struggle for his life, holding onto his gun with one hand and blocking the knife with the other,” Knecht said.
About midnight, a U-Haul truck was stopped at a checkpoint in the north part of Edmonton, the CBC reports. The officer recognized the name of the driver as being similar to the registered owner of the car that struck the officer, according to the CBC.
“Just before midnight, a U Haul truck was pulled over at a Checkstop location on Wayne Gretzky Drive and 112 Avenue,” police said in a press release. “A police officer asked to see the licence of the driver, and recognized the name as being similar to the registered owner of the Chevy Malibu involved in the incident on 107A Avenue earlier in the evening.”
The U-Haul driver fled from the traffic stop, with several police vehicles pursuing him.
“During the chase, the U Haul truck deliberately attempted to hit pedestrians in crosswalks and alleys in two areas along Jasper Avenue, at 107 and 109 streets,” police said. “Currently, it is believed four pedestrians were struck by the truck and transported to hospital with multiple injuries. The chase concluded with the U Haul truck flipping over on Jasper Avenue. The driver was apprehended and is currently in police custody.”
Knecht said police used a tactical maneuver to force the truck to flip over. Police then used a grenade that emitted a loud bang to distract the suspect and broke the front window of the truck. Officers tried to drag the suspect out of the U-Haul, but he resisted, and a stun gun was used on him. He was seen by a doctor, but was not seriously injured. No shots were fired during the entire incident, Knecht said.
The incident occurred near The Pint, a bar in downtown Edmonton, which released a statement Sunday night, saying one of its employees, who is a fourth-year nursing student, rushed to provide aid to the victims.
The Pint’s manager, Austin Elgie, told The Globe and Mail he was outside the bar when he saw the truck speed down an alley where people were smoking and hit one of the bar’s customers.
“I thought at first he was pulling over for the cops coming by, but he was clearly the one they were chasing,” he told the newspaper. Elgie said he rain to get Nena Powell, the nursing student who works as a bartender at The Pint on Saturdays. He told her, “I need you to stay calm, but I need you outside. A man just got hit.”
Powell told the newspaper she found the victim unconscious. She stabilized his head and checked his heart rate. “His vitals [signs] were normal,” she said. “That’s all that mattered to me. At least he was still alive.”
Police said one of the victims suffered a fractured skull and was unconscious, but woke up Sunday morning and is expected to survive.
Two of the victims struck by the truck remain hospitalized for observation and possible further treatment, Knecht said. They suffered injuries ranging from broken limbs to brain bleeds, police said. One of the victims was in critical condition, but has been upgraded to stable, Knecht said. Two other victims have been released from the hospital. All are expected to survive.
“We are grateful no one was killed, but this is still a terrible tragedy for the victims, their families and our broader community,” Knecht said.
4. Sharif Is Expected to Be Charged With 5 Counts of Attempted Murder, Along With Terrorism-Related Offenses
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif is expected to be charged with five counts of attempted murder, Global News reports. He will also be charged with terrorism-related offenses, according to the news network.
After the crash, Sharif was taken to see a doctor. He was being interviewed by investigators Sunday night. Knecht said he will soon be facing charges of participation in a terrorist act, commission of an offense for a terrorist group, five counts of attempted murder, dangerous driving, criminal flight causing bodily harm and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
According to the CBC, police believe that Sharif worked alone.
“I wish to urge calm,” Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said Sunday at a press conference. “To the best of our knowledge this was a lone wolf attack. Terrorism is about creating panic and sowing divide and disrupting people’s lives, so we can succumb to that or we can rise above it.”
Police Chief Rod Knecht said in a statement, “Currently, we believe this is an individual who acted alone, although the investigation is in its early stages. We are urging all Edmontonians to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Please contact police immediately if you see or hear anything out of the ordinary or unusual.”
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marlin Degrand said, “It appears that this was the actions of one individual and no others were involved in the planning or carrying out of the event. At this time, this appears to be an isolated incident involving a single individual.”
Degrand said that could change as the investigation progresses, and anyone else found to have been involved will also face charges. Police said they are carrying out investigations at multiple crime scenes and several locations around Edmonton, but would not provide further details. Another press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday.
5. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Said ‘We Cannot – And Will Not – Let Violent Extremism Take Root in Our Cities’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement Sunday.
“The Government of Canada and Canadians stand with the people of Edmonton after the terrorist attack on Saturday,” he said. “I am deeply concerned and outraged by this tragedy.
“Our thoughts are with those injured, their family and friends, and all those affected by this senseless act of violence. While the investigation continues, early reports indicate that this is another example of the hate that we must remain ever vigilant against. The RCMP and the Edmonton Police Service, through the Integrated National Enforcement Team, are working closely together to bring those involved to justice.
“We cannot – and will not – let violent extremism take root in our communities. We know that Canada’s strength comes from our diversity, and we will not be cowed by those who seek to divide us or promote fear.”
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley echoed those thoughts in her own statement.
“It’s left us shocked at the indiscriminate cruelty and angry that someone might target their hatred at places where we gather with our families and friends,” Notley said. “Hatred has no place in Alberta. It’s not who we are. We are in this together and together we are stronger than any form of hate.”
She said the first responders showed “incredible bravery” during the incidents.
“Our first responders are incredible people. Thank you to each and every one of our police officers, paramedics and firefighters who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Thank you, also, to the women and men who dropped everything to help their fellow Albertans. Your bravery in moments of fear and your compassion in moments of chaos are what’s very best about us,” Notley said.
There is a large Somali community in Edmonton and Alberta. Local human rights activist Ahmed Abdikhadir told the CBC, that he felt “anger and frustration” at the news it was a possible terrorist attack, but also fears it could cause backlash against minority communities.
“To the Edmonton community at large, I would like to tell them that we stand together and unite against hate. And let’s solve this problem collectively, rather than pointing fingers at each other,” Abdikhadir told the news netowrk. “Pointing at one community or the other will not be the solution.”
Faisal Khan Suri, president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, said his organization condemns the attacks.
“Although those affected are now safe, we are shocked, saddened and horrified that these attacks took place in Edmonton,” Suri said in a statement. “We condemn these attacks and hope the perpetrator is quickly brought to justice. We will be working closely with the authorities as the investigation continues.”
The White House also issued a statement about the attack on Sunday.
“We condemn the cowardly terror attacks on a police officer and pedestrians that occurred late last night in Edmonton, Canada,” the statement said. “Law enforcement authorities from the United States are in touch with their Canadian counterparts to offer assistance in the ongoing investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and we hope for their speedy and complete recovery.”