Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/8/2016 (1896 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA - An early-morning tip from FBI investigators triggered a "race against time" as police scrambled to identify and locate a balaclava-wearing would-be suicide bomber they feared was on the verge of killing innocent Canadians.
Within three hours, they believed they had found their man: Aaron Driver, 24, a known terrorist sympathizer who was living in the southwestern Ontario town of Strathroy, under court-imposed conditions.
"It was a race against time," RCMP deputy commissioner Mike Cabana told a news conference Thursday in Ottawa as he described in chilling detail the deadly events of the previous day.
"How quickly this was all established is actually testament to the level of collaboration that exists between law enforcement agencies and security agencies in Canada and the United States. Without that ... the outcome would have been quite different."
The tip included a screen shot of a "martyrdom video" of Driver, and a warning that he was planning to detonate a homemade explosive device in an urban centre during morning or afternoon rush hour, Cabana said.
"Based on the information, the attack was supposed to take place within the next 72 hours."
The warning was Canada-wide and made no mention of a specific city, said RCMP assistant commissioner Jennifer Strachan, who praised investigators for identifying Driver quickly enough to prevent him from carrying out the attack.
Several hours later, with police amassing outside Driver's house and the afternoon rush hour ramping up, a taxi unexpectedly arrived. Officers moved in when Driver, carrying a backpack, left the house and jumped into the back seat.
"Scene containment was done, and the taxi — we had no knowledge it was coming and it got in there very quickly," Strachan said.
As the officers confronted the suspect, an improvised explosive device suddenly detonated, injuring the cabbie.
Driver was killed in the ensuing fracas, either by the explosion or police gunfire, Strachan said. Police photos of the inside of the cab show how the blast ripped apart the upholstery, shattered windows and scorched the interior.
"If he had gotten out of that residence before we got there," she said, "the scenario would have ended a lot differently."
In the video, aired during the news conference, a masked Driver addresses the camera directly, speaking Arabic before an English tirade against western "enemies of Islam," including Canada and allies in Europe and the United States.
"You still have Muslim blood on your hands, and for this we are thirsty for your blood," he says.
"There's a fire burning in the chest of every Muslim, and this fire can be cooled only by the spilling of your blood. Your war on Islam is not the kind of crime we allow ourselves to dismiss, to forgive or to forget, insha'Allah."
Cabana also said Thursday that the ongoing investigation has led police to a "secondary location" in the city of London, Ont., not far from where Driver had been living with his sister in the town of Strathroy.
Driver had been under a court order not to associate with any terrorist organizations, among other restrictions. But he was not under continuous surveillance, said Cabana.
In February, Driver's lawyer and the Crown agreed to a peace bond stating there are "reasonable grounds to fear that he may participate, contribute directly or indirectly in the activity of a terrorist group."
The RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other police and security agencies were also involved in Wednesday's operation.
The federal Liberal government has committed upwards of $500 million towards various police, security and border control measures, as well as a counter-radicalization program ramping up this summer, said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
"Canada, obviously, is very anxious to maintain the open, inclusive and generous nature of our country," Goodale told a news conference in Regina.
"In order to do that, we have to be among the best in the world at identifying those who are vulnerable to the insidious messages of radicalization; we have to find the means ... to reach out to those who would be vulnerable, and to find the ways effectively to intervene with the right people at the right time with the right messages, to try to head off these tragedies before they occur."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his gratitude via Twitter: "On behalf of Canadians, we thank the @rcmpgrcpolice for their work in Strathroy yesterday," Trudeau wrote. "Your service ensures our safety each and every day."
In Strathroy, a neighbour of Driver's said he couldn't recall ever seeing the man around town. But he said Wednesday's incident — and the discovery that a terror suspect lived only a stone's throw away — hit "a little too close to home."
"For me, having two kids and my wife and a possible terrorist ... sympathizer down the street, it's kind of ... it's a little crazy."
Last year, federal authorities were so suspicious Driver might have ties to a terrorist group that he bounced in and out of jails and courtrooms for months, all without any actual charges ever being laid — and he had no criminal record at the time.
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In June 2015, Driver was first picked up in Winnipeg. Published reports at the time suggested Driver posted messages on social media that praised terrorist activities, including the attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014 by Michael Zehaf Bibeau.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University who studies radicalization and terrorism, maintained in 2015 that Driver posted for several months on social media about disliking Canada and about a desire to move overseas.
Mounties applied for a peace bond that could impose limits on Driver's activities, alleging in provincial court documents that investigators believed he might help with terrorist group activities.
When Driver was released later that month, he was ordered to comply with 18 different conditions, including wearing a GPS tracking device.
— With files from Paola Loriggio in Strathroy, Ont.
— Follow @tpedwell on Twitter
Driver in his own words
Aaron Driver spoke with a few media outlets in the last two years. Here are some selected quotes from them.
Feb. 2015: Toronto Star (at the time Driver was not named)
"I'm not doing anything illegal and I haven't done anything illegal yet. I haven't called for violence against anyone or anything like that."
Driver defended the acts of violence by the Islamic State, including beheadings of prisoners, saying "they are showing people that this is what you are actually doing to us and so we're gong to do it back to you.
"(Canadians) don't want that happening in their country, but I think a lot of Canadians need to wake up and understand that we're doing this and worse to other people in other countries."
May 2015: National Post
Driver wrote in an email exchange that he was frustrated Canadian authorities wouldn’t let him leave for Syria. “These are (for the most part) people who want to leave for jihad. Makes no sense to keep people who hate you in the country next to you.
"It's short-sighted. They could simply revoke passports for confirmed migrants after they leave Canada."
Driver also said in the interview he wasn't afraid of Bill C-51, the law making it a criminal offence to go online to promote terrorism groups, saying he was "a little worried, but at the same time I won't cower at the threats of the government and give up my rights to speak."
July 2015: CBC
"I don't think there's a reason for Canadians to think I'm a threat," he said.
"I don't have a violent history. I've only been in a few fist fights in my whole life."
Driver said "if a country goes to war with another country or another people or another community, I think that they have to be prepared for things like (the Parliament Hill shooting) to happen.
"And when it does happen they shouldn't, they shouldn't act surprised. They had it coming for them; they deserved it."
Driver also said he went from being a devout Muslim to a "radical extremist" after "seeing some of the things that happened in Syria.
"It infuriates you and it breaks your heart at the same time. And I think that if you know what's going on, you have to do something. Even if you're just speaking about it."
"Oh Canada, you received many warnings. You were told many times what will become of those who fight against the Islamic State. You watched as your allies in Europe and America had their bullets and bombs returned back to them. You saw bodies of the filthy French laying in their own streets.
You saw explosions in Paris and Brussels, similar to the explosions they were dropping on citizens of the Islamic State. You saw brave men and women respond to the call of jihad. You saw that each member of the coalition of crusaders was being punished for their aggression against the Muslims. Then, perhaps, you found yourself safe from retaliation because you ran away from the battlefield. No, no by Allah you still have much to pay for.
You still have a heavy debt which has to be paid. You still have Muslim blood on your hands, and for this we are thirsty for your blood. There's a fire burning in the chest of every Muslim, and this fire can be cooled only by the spilling of your blood. Your war on Islam is not the kind of crime we allow ourselves to dismiss, to forgive or to forget, insha'Allah.
You will pay for everything you ever brought against us. Whether you drop a bomb or fire a single bullet, we will hold you accountable for this, insha'Allah. Whether you spend millions in the war against Islam or you spend a single cent, we will hold you accountable, insha'Allah.
When you creep an inch towards the lands of Islam or you set foot over its boundaries, we will hold you accountable, insha'Allah.
You call yourselves peacekeepers on this Earth, but (Allah) has already warned us against you. You're nothing but mischief-makers, and all you do is spread oppression and corruption. So today is the day you experience what it's like to be targeted for your belief, insha'Allah.
I give my pledge of allegiance to (ISIL leader) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ... who's called for jihad in the lands of crusaders, and I respond to this call."
Document: Aaron Driver peace bond
Oct. 22, 2014:
Shots ring out on Parliament Hill. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, an ISIS supporter, storms the Centre Block after fatally shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in broad daylight. Aaron Driver followed the day’s events closely. As the nation tenses up by the attack on the very nerve centre of its democracy, Driver later told the Toronto Star it was “justified.”
"I think if a country goes to war with another country, or another people or another community, they have to be prepared for things like that to happen," Driver told the CBC.
RCMP receive a complaint from a member of the public about social media posts under the alias Harun Abdurahman and open an investigation.
June 4, 2015:
Driver is arrested, but not charged with a crime, after a raid at a home in Charleswood.
Members of the RCMP national security enforcement section allege Driver "will participate in or contribute to, directly or indirectly, the activity of a terrorist group for the purpose of enhancing the ability of a terrorist group to facilitate or carry out a terrorist activity."
After eight nights behind bars, Driver agrees to several conditions of recognizance. Among those stipulations, Driver must wear a GPS tracker, hand over his passport, get rid of his computer and refrain from owning anything with the ISIS logo on it. He also must go through “religious counselling.”
Then-public safety minister Steven Blaney said "as the heads of our national security agencies and the minister have said before, the threat of jihadi terrorists is real."
June 26, 2015:
Driver is taken into custody by police from his Charleswood home after his landlord withdraws the surety bond. "Aaron should have apologized for his remarks in the interview with CBC and expressed his gratitude for living in a safe, peaceful and comfortable country," the landlord said.
Feb 2, 2016
After several months in Winnipeg wearing a GPS tracker, Driver agrees to a peace bond, meaning federal justice officials believe there are reasonable grounds that he might aid a terrorist group or terrorist activity. Among the conditions, Driver is ordered to live in Strathroy, Ont., with his sister. The federal Crown prosecutor agrees to make one change to Driver's earlier "will participate in or contribute to" from his recognizance to his peace bond, changing "will" to "may". Other than that, the conditions are almost exactly what Driver’s lawyer was arguing for when he was first arrested in June 2015.
Aug. 10, 2016:
The FBI tips off the RCMP to a video posted by Driver in which he rails against western "enemies of Islam" and warns that the only solution would be the "spilling of your blood."
Driver is planning to detonate a homemade explosive in an urban centre sometime in the next 72 hours, targeting rush hour crowds.
In the evening, RCMP surround a Strathroy home, where Driver is shot and killed by police after Driver set off a bomb in the back of a cab. The cab driver suffered minor injuries.
Updated on Thursday, August 11, 2016 at 3:57 PM CDT: Adds video