MONTREAL (AFP) — Canadian police arrested a 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 authorities were calling an “act of terrorism.”
The crime spree began Saturday evening, when the suspect first crashed a white Chevy Malibu through police barricades outside a football stadium in the western city of Edmonton, and ended hours later when his U-Haul rental truck flipped onto its side, with police in hot pursuit.
The suspect, described as a 30-year-old Edmonton resident, was pulled out of the vehicle through the smashed front windshield and handcuffed, a witness, Pat Hannigan, told the Edmonton Journal.
The recovery of an Islamic State flag from one of the vehicles used in the attacks led police to pursue the incidents as an act of terrorism.
“Currently, we believe this is an individual who acted alone, although the investigation is in its early stages,” Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht said.
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.
Trudeau said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the country’s Integrated National Enforcement Team had joined the Edmonton police in its investigation.
“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 p.m. Saturday, local time, 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.
“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 police statement said.
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.
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, Knecht told reporters.
“Currently, it is believed four pedestrians were struck by the truck and transported to 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 center 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.