Canada van driver charged with murder, Trudeau reassures nation

People sign a memorial after a driver plowed a rented van along a crowded sidewalk, killing multiple people and injuring others in Toronto. (The Canadian Press via AP)
Updated 24 April 2018
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Canada van driver charged with murder, Trudeau reassures nation

  • Judge in Toronto orders 25-year-old suspected van driver held on 10 counts of 1st degree murder, 13 of attempted murder
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urges a rattled nation not to live in fear

TORONTO: A van driver who ran over 10 people when he plowed onto a busy Toronto sidewalk was charged with murder Tuesday, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged a rattled nation not to live in fear after the “senseless attack.”
Police said the suspect, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, was not known to them before Monday’s carnage in Canada’s most populous city, which also left 15 people injured.
He also was not in the crosshairs of intelligence and security agencies, leading Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to sideline the theory of a terror attack such as those carried out by extremists in London, Nice and other major cities.
“On the basis of all available information at the present time, there would appear to be no national security connection to this particular incident,” Goodale said.
But authorities said the incident during the busy lunch hour Monday was undoubtedly deliberate, and Minassian — his head shaved, and in a white police jumpsuit — was charged with first degree murder in a brief court appearance.
He also faces multiple counts of attempted murder over those injured in the incident.
Two South Koreans were among the dead, a foreign ministry official in Seoul said, adding that another of the country’s citizens seriously injured.
As the wounded recovered in local hospitals, federal, provincial and local investigators were probing the case, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said.
Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians not to live in fear.
“We must not start living in fear and uncertainty every day as we go about our daily lives,” the prime minister told a news conference in Ottawa.
“Canadians across the country are shocked and saddened by this senseless attack.”
However, he added: “We must remain a country that is open and free and comfortable with its values, and we will continue to do that.”
Officials will “reflect on the changing situations in which we are in, and do everything we can to keep Canadians safe,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister pointed out, as Goodale had done the day before, that “there’s no connection to national security,” effectively ruling out any terrorist attack.
Students who attended a Toronto vocational school with Minassian described him as withdrawn and a bit awkward.
The suspect lived with his father in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, and attended Seneca College, according to his LinkedIn social media profile.
Minassian kept mostly to himself at school, and seemed to constantly rub his head or hands — a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), classmates told local media.
Ari Blaff, one of the students, told public broadcaster CBC that Minassian’s behavior “was usually quite strange.” But he’d “never noticed anything violent” — the suspect just “made people feel uneasy around him.”
Minassian, who has an imposing physical build, defied a police officer during his arrest.
Wielding an object in his left hand, standing near the van with its front end smashed, the suspect shouted “kill me” to the police officer with his gun drawn, according to an amateur video posted on social media.
The police officer approached the suspect as he knelt and handcuffed him.
The city’s police chief later said Minassian was unarmed.
For 30 minutes prior, panic struck along the nearly kilometer-long (half-mile) stretch of Yonge Street where the driver had jumped the curb onto the sidewalk.
“He was going really fast,” witness Alex Shaker told CTV television.
“All I could see was just people one by one getting knocked out, knocked out, one by one,” Shaker said. “There are so many people lying down on the streets.”
On Tuesday, police continued to comb the crime scene for evidence, while crowds gathered at a makeshift memorial to leave messages of condolences and flowers.
“We must remain a country that is open and free and comfortable with its values, and we will continue to do that,” Trudeau said.
Officials will “reflect on the changing situations in which we are in, and do everything we can to keep Canadians safe,” he added.


Pakistani who taught ‘American Taliban’ hails his release

Updated 20 min 24 sec ago
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Pakistani who taught ‘American Taliban’ hails his release

  • John Walker Lindh symbolized betrayal for the US when he was captured, bearded and disheveled, while fighting for the Taliban in 2001
  • He was one of hundreds of Taliban fighters captured by Northern Alliance forces on November 25, 2001

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani religious teacher who spent six months with “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh has hailed his release, describing him as a “good person” who became upset over the situation in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine.
Lindh symbolized betrayal for the US when he was captured, bearded and disheveled, while fighting for the Taliban in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 2001.
His release from prison on Thursday — three years before the end of his 20-year sentence — has re-awakened memories of the September 11 attacks and underscored the tragedy of the US invasion of Afghanistan, where civilians are paying a deadly price as the war grinds on.
President Donald Trump said he was upset about the release, but government lawyers had told him there was no legal way to keep him in prison.
“We’ll be watching him and watching him closely,” Trump told reporters.
But Mohammad Iltimas, who taught Lindh for six months at a Muslim school near the Afghan border in Pakistan’s northwest, said he was happy to hear of the decision to release him.
“He was such a pure person, such a positive-thinking man,” Iltimas told AFP.
Iltimas said Lindh came to his school — the Madrassa Arabia Hussania, outside the city of Bannu — in December 2000, and stayed until May or April of the next year.
“He wanted to memorize the Qur’an,” he said, describing how Lindh could often be seen listening to Qur’anic verses on a tape recorder or learning Pashto.
“He was such a good student, pious and focused on his studies, I never saw him sitting idle. He was not interested in sports. He was such a serious and committed person to his cause.”
Lindh was “upset over the situation in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Palestine,” said Iltimas.
At the time, the Taliban regime which controlled most of Afghanistan was engaged in a bloody fight with the rebellious Northern Alliance.
Soon the madrassa student enlisted in the Taliban’s ranks.
After the United States intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Lindh was one of hundreds of Taliban fighters captured by Northern Alliance forces on November 25.
He revealed his American identity to two CIA officers in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
One of them, Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed in a prisoner revolt hours after he interrogated Lindh, making him the first American killed in post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan.
Mazar residents who remembered Lindh described to AFP their shock on hearing that an American had been captured fighting for the Islamist militants.
“People were asking how is that possible,” recalled 40-year-old resident Khayber Ibrahimi.
“I think he must have been too brave or too stupid to have gone with the Taliban,” he told AFP.
In July 2002 plea deal, Lindh admitted charges of illegally aiding the Taliban and carrying weapons and explosives.
By most accounts, he clung firmly to his faith throughout his imprisonment.
An internal 2017 report from the US National Counterterrorism Center, obtained by the Foreign Policy website, said that Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
The claim was not supported by public evidence.
Iltimas told AFP that Lindh had written him from prison, although AFP was unable to immediately verify the claim.
When Lindh left for Afghanistan, Iltimas said, he left some of his possessions behind at the madrassa, claiming he would return.
“I still have that stuff — his briefcase, books, shoes, clothes, notebooks,” Iltimas told AFP.
“People at the time used to ask me if I had changed him into a jihadi,” he said.
“I always replied to them that I turned him to education, and changed him as a scholar.”
Now 38, Lindh will settle in Virginia under strict probation terms that limit his ability to go online or contact any other Islamists.
In Afghanistan, where he was captured, the Taliban are once again resurgent, Afghan civilians desperate for peace, and the US eager to escape what has become the longest war in its history.