Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/8/2016 (1899 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was just six months ago that Aaron Driver walked out of a downtown Winnipeg courthouse, claiming to be a victim of religious persecution and vowing he posed no threat to anyone.
Today, the death of the 24-year-old Driver is making headlines around the world as the terrorist sympathizer whose plans to kill scores of innocent Canadians were thwarted just in time by a dramatic police takedown.
RCMP say a tip from FBI investigators Wednesday morning triggered a desperate search to stop a would-be suicide bomber they feared was about to strike in a major Canadian centre. The mystery man was identified as Driver, who had recently moved from Winnipeg to the town of Strathroy in southwestern Ontario.
"It was a race against time," RCMP deputy commissioner Mike Cabana said Thursday during a news conference in Ottawa. "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."
Police say the FBI information was based on a chilling "martyrdom video" of Driver, along with a warning that he was planning to detonate a bomb in an urban centre during morning or afternoon rush hour within a 72-hour period.
RCMP assistant commissioner Jennifer Strachan told reporters no specific city was mentioned as the target for the planned attack.
But after identifying Driver as their suspect, police gathered outside his Strathroy home Wednesday afternoon and were setting up what they described as "scene containment" when a taxi pulled up. Driver suddenly bolted from his home and got into the backseat. He was carrying a backpack.
Strachan said that caught everyone by surprise. They had to move in.
"The taxi, we had no knowledge it was coming and it got in there very quickly," Strachan said. As police rushed in to try and stop Driver before he got away, an "improvised explosive device" suddenly went off.
Driver was killed -- either by the blast or police gunfire. The cab driver was injured but survived. Police displayed photos Thursday which show a scorched interior of the cab, with the upholstery ripped apart.
"If he had gotten out of that residence before we got there, the scenario would have ended a lot differently," Strachan said.
Driver first came on to police radar in Winnipeg in June 2015 when he was arrested at a Charleswood home despite not being accused of any specific criminal activity. RCMP alleged that Driver, who has also gone by the alias Harun Abdourahman, was in communication with Islamic State and might aid a terrorist group or terrorist activity.
Police say Driver had posted messages on social media that praised terrorist activities, including the attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014 by Michael Zehaf Bibeau.
Federal justice officials applied for a peace bond under section 810 of the Criminal Code, but Driver said he would fight it in court. After a few days in custody, Driver was let out on bail. As part of his release, he agreed to wear a GPS tracking device on his ankle.
The matter was set for a week-long trial this past February -- but Crown and defence lawyers worked out a last minute resolution just as it was set to begin. In a 10-minute hearing, Driver agreed to the peace bond. There were 12 conditions imposed on him, including not having a computer or cellular phone, not being in possession of a firearm or explosives until the end of the year, and not being on social media sites or having contact with any member of ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and Al Qaida in Iraq or any affiliated groups.
He was also ordered to live at the home in Strathroy where Wednesday's deadly events went down.
On Thursday, RCMP showed media a copy of Driver's "martyrdom video" that had put authorities on high alert. In the video, a masked Driver speaks directly to the camera, first in Arabic and then English. He rails 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 said. "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."
RCMP said despite the peace bond conditions, Driver had not been under constant surveillance. However, his Winnipeg-based peace bond conditions did require him to meet with an RCMP officer in London, Ont. every second week.
The bi-level house in the quiet west Charleswood neighbourhood where Driver lived as a tenant in the basement until earlier this year had curtains pulled over all the windows on Thursday. No one answered the door when a Free Press reporter rang the door bell.
Most area residents declined speaking to reporters. But one said she was "glad it happened down there and not here."
Learning from tragedy
The death on Wednesday of the terrorist sympathizer prompted many people to look for lessons that can be learned from the tragedy.
Wayne Driver, father of Aaron Driver
The elder Driver spoke with an Ottawa radio station on Thursday about his son's death.
"At first, it was disbelief and shock and then the more you listen, you realize it’s your son and you wonder, ‘My god, what brought him this far? What could we have done differently to help him? You know, thoughts like that go through your head," he told 580 CFRA.
Wayne Driver, a former military officer now training to be a pastor, described breaking down in tears after seeing the video his son had made. He said his son was angry at the world following the death of his mother when he was just seven years old.
My god, what brought him this far? What could we have done differently to help him? Wayne Driver, father
"He was mad at me, mad at God, mad at the world for taking away his best friend," he said. The angry boy grew up to be a rebellious teenager, skipping school, smoking pot and enduring a fractured family life. Counselling and therapy had little success.
Driver eventually converted to Islam, which his father said was initially seen as a "good thing". But that changed as the young man immersed himself online in websites and podcasts devoted to terrorist beliefs.
In his interview Thursday, Driver's father questioned why his son wasn't under more scrutiny following his initial contact with police in Manitoba.
"Why did (the courts) let him off with that peace bond? I’m just wondering if there may be some other things that could have been done, realizing they can only do so much, and I applaud them for finding out what they did find out. Sometimes you just wonder if it could have been prevented," he said.
James Bezan, federal Conservative defence critic
Bezan, who is MP for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman, told the Free Press on Thursday he believes Driver’s case should have been handled differently from the start and that a firmer hand last year could have saved Driver’s life. He believes Driver should have originally been charged with promoting terrorism.
"Ultimately, I think that if he had been (charged), he’d be alive today, we would have had a chance to evaluate him, and essentially de-radicalize him," Bezan said. "But because of the judicial system that we have, he was released on a peace bond, which didn’t prevent him from pursuing the crazy idea he had."
Asked about concerns that such a move would have constituted a human rights violation, Bezan said the bottom line was that it could have saved lives.
"If he was successful in carrying out his murderous rampage in the name of ISIS, that to me would have been much more difficult to explain to Canadians than having someone arrested and properly evaluated for their continued support for ISIS and propagating terrorism right here in Canada," Bezan said.
"If you look at other countries of similar power and similar human rights values that we have here in Canada and respect for the rule of law, they are arresting youth and adults in places like Germany, France and England" for similar offences, Bezan said. "… We need to follow suit here. We can’t give free license to potential terrorists who are clearly documenting their desire to harm Canadians."
Bezan said this event shows "Canada is not immune" to terrorism, and called on the federal Liberals to maintain Bill C-51, the former Conservative government’s anti-terrorism bill that was passed into law last summer. Before and since, the bill has been criticized as vague and over-broad, and gave rise to concerns over privacy and freedom of expression.
Shahina Siddiqui, Winnipeg Islamic spokesperson
Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association, had reached out to Driver's father last year in an attempt to help and support the family. She had done the same for other young people in the past who have been "influenced by violent ideologies," a phrase she prefers over the more common "radicalized".
"I just had one conversation to pass on the message that if his son wanted to talk to us, and (ask) if they needed someone to talk to," she recalled. "His father definitely, of course, wanted to help his son, and was afraid for him."
But Driver never did reach out to ISSA.
"I was sad," Siddiqui said of hearing the news of his death. "I thought things were going okay, hoping that he was getting the help that he needed, and that he was with family. But obviously not enough was done to help him."
Going forward, she’d like to see more investment from all levels of government to ensure that help can be delivered before people like Driver follow in his footsteps. Instead, she sees a pattern of sensational headlines and reactionary response followed by inaction.
"It’s a societal issue. It’s a Canadian issue," she said. "When something bad happens, everybody is up in arms, and then nothing. That’s not the way to do planning and work for a societal harmony by just responding to headlines and crisis. We need to prevent crisis from happening in the first place."
Transcript of Driver's martyrdom video
"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.
Want to get a head start on your day?
Get the day’s breaking stories, weather forecast, and more sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning.
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."
Mike McIntyre Sports columnist
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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."
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.
- with files from Kevin Rollason and news services