Canadian police arrested a Somalian man early Sunday suspected of stabbing an officer and deliberately ramming pedestrians during a high-speed chase in a rented truck, injuring four in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as a “terrorist attack.”
The crime spree began Saturday evening outside a football stadium in the western city of Edmonton and ended hours later when the suspect’s U-Haul rental truck flipped onto its side with police in hot pursuit.
Local media named the attacker as 30-year-old Abdulahi Hasan Sharif as authorities confirmed he was a Somalian national who had applied for asylum and was known to the security services following a complaint in 2015.
“There was insufficient evidence to pursue terrorism charges,” Marlin Degrand, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at a press conference, adding: “The suspect was not deemed to pose a threat to Canada.”
The recovery of an Islamic State flag from one of the vehicles used in the attacks had led police to pursue the incident as an act of terrorism.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident a “terrorist attack,” and urged Canadians to be vigilant.
“I am deeply concerned and outraged by this tragedy,” he said in a statement.
“While the investigation continues, early reports indicate that this is another example of the hate that we must remain ever vigilant against,” he said.
“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,” he said.
– Police officer stabbed –
At approximately 8:15 pm Saturday (0215 GMT Sunday) a man in a speeding white Chevy Malibu crashed through police barricades outside Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, where a Canadian Football League game was being played.
The car struck a police officer standing in front of his patrol car, “sending him flying 15 feet through the air” before crashing into his car, according to a statement by local police.
“A male believed to be 30 years of age, then jumped out of his vehicle and began viciously stabbing the officer with a knife, as a struggle ensued,” the statement added.
The suspect then fled on foot and the police officer was rushed to a hospital.
The scene was captured on a surveillance video which was released by the police.
– Rented truck –
Police set up roadblocks around the city of 800,000, and just before midnight police pulled over the U-Haul truck.
When police noticed that the name on the driver’s license was similar to that of the registered owner of the white Malibu, the man took off toward downtown Edmonton, according to the police account.
“He deliberately tried to hit pedestrians in crosswalks and alleys” at two different places, Rod Knecht, chief of Edmonton police, told reporters.
“Currently, it is believed four pedestrians were struck by the truck and transported to the hospital with multiple injuries,” it said.
Witnesses described a scene of stunned panic when the truck plowed through pedestrians.
– ‘I just see people flying’ –
“There were people flying and everything,” Kim Andressen told the Edmonton Journal. “I’m shocked — I just see people flying.”
The chase ended when the suspect lost control of the truck, which flipped onto its side.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he believed it was a “lone wolf” attack.
“Terrorism is about creating panic and disrupting people’s lives,” he said, adding that Edmontonians would “rise above hatred and division.”
The incident was reminiscent of similar vehicle attacks by jihadists in Barcelona, London, Nice, Berlin and Stockholm.
In 2014, a Muslim convert ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, killing one of them. The assailant was shot to death after he tried to attack a police officer with a knife.
That incident came just two days before a soldier guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa was shot and killed by a Canadian Muslim in an incident that spilled into the nearby Canadian parliament before he, too, was killed by police.
Several Canadians have joined the ranks of Islamic State over the past five years, and others have been intercepted and jailed on terrorism charges under a law made tougher after the attack in Ottawa.
In March 2016, a Canadian who said he was acting on orders of Allah attacked two soldiers with a knife at a recruitment centre in Toronto.
Canada is a member of the international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria. Although it has withdrawn its combat aircraft from coalition operations, it still has special operations forces and trainers on the ground in Iraq.