A 24-year-old man who had been under a peace bond for being an ISIS sympathizer was killed Wednesday night by police responding to what they say was “a potential terrorist threat” in the small southern Ontario town of Strathroy.
RCMP told Driver’s family that police shot Aaron Driver after he detonated a device that wounded himself and one other person, CBC News has learned. The identity of the other person isn’t clear.
Police told Driver’s family they had to shoot him because he had another device and planned to detonate it. A senior police official told The Canadian Press on Wednesday that the man allegedly planned to use a bomb to carry out a suicide mission in a public area.
“The RCMP received credible information of a potential terrorist threat,” an RCMP statement said earlier Wednesday. “A suspect was identified and the proper course of action has been taken to ensure that there is no danger to the public’s safety.
“As this is still an unfolding matter and that the investigation is still underway, we are not able to provide further comment at this time.”
On Wednesday morning, transit officials in Toronto say the RCMP informed them of a credible threat, but that they had no specific details, CBC learned Thursday morning.
CBC News also learned the increased police presence at Union Station on Wednesday evening was directly related to the “credible threat” that the RCMP told transit officials about.
“As a precaution, we issued a ‘see something, say something’ vigilance notice to all TTC staff, as we do after incidents that occur around the world or if advised of threats closer to home,” said Brad Ross, executive director of the Toronto Transit Commission.
The RCMP also warned Toronto airport officials.
Siobhan Desroches from the Greater Toronto Airport Authority told CBC that after learning of the threat, they “worked with partners responsible for airport security to enhance our security posture.”
Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said Thursday morning that there is “nothing at this point to indicate Toronto was targeted,” and added that it’s an RCMP matter.
Neighbour called police Monday
Maria Pereira, who lives next door to the home where police shot and killed Driver, said she had been sitting on her porch Monday afternoon and heard what sounded like firecrackers coming from her neighbour’s yard.
She called police.
“It was louder than fireworks and that’s what started to worry me. And my dog goes nuts — he doesn’t like fireworks. And I was just mad at that point because there was no reason to be setting off fireworks in the middle of the day.”
She said she had to leave before the police arrived, but that she saw them coming down the street as she left her house that day.
Neighbours say Thought Driver may have been living in the shed. Said they would hear strange noises in the middle of the night from backyard
Pereira said she didn’t know Driver. She said a man and woman, three young teenagers and a young boy moved into the house about a year ago. Driver didn’t appear to live in the home on a regular basis, but would come and go, she said.
She added that she wasn’t sure how Driver was related to the family.
“He wouldn’t go in the house, he’d go in the back. I thought someone was living in the back shed because I could hear TV at some points and rustling, and my dog would go nuts at the back shed.
“I just thought it was strange how he would come over there and not even go into the house. He would just hang out in the backyard most of the time.”
ISIS supporter on peace bond
Driver agreed to the conditions of a peace bond when he appeared in a Winnipeg court earlier this year after his arrest in June 2015.
By agreeing to the peace bond, Driver was “consenting or acknowledging that there are reasonable grounds to fear that he may participate, contribute — directly or indirectly — in the activity of a terrorist group.”
He first caught the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in October 2014 when he was tweeting support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria under the alias Harun Abdurahman. He had also said Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack on Parliament Hill in October of that year was justified.
Driver’s former lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, told CBC News there was no evidence Driver was directly affiliated with ISIS or any other organization.
“It’s shocking. Absolutely shocking, actually,” Tailleur, who handled Driver’s peace bond process, said of Driver’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. “He was generally looked to be low risk as long as there’s certain things that had been dealt with.”
Among the conditions of the peace bond was that he live at a specified address in Strathroy and notify a specified RCMP sergeant of any changes in address.
Driver was also not allowed to associate with any terrorist organization, including ISIS. He was prohibited from using a computer or cellphone — rules that were to be in place until the end of August.
Driver was most likely under regular police surveillance, Tailleur said.
“If he was doing his thing, it was kind of ridiculous because I’m certain he was going to be under scrutiny beyond his peace bond,” Tailleur said. “Police would always monitor his whereabouts … They’d make him a priority.”
Terror threat not lifted
Ralph Goodale, minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said in a statement Wednesday evening he had made Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aware of the situation.
“The RCMP received credible information regarding a potential terrorist threat and took action to ensure public safety,” said the statement.
Here’s a statement on today’s RCMP response to a potential terrorist threat in Canada https://t.co/j3haMU5M8O
Taking all relevant information into account, the national terrorism threat level for Canada remains at “medium,” where it has stood since the fall of 2014, Goodale added.
The Mounties planned to hold a news conference on Thursday to provide details.
Residents told to stay inside
During the incident in Strathroy, a community of about 20,000 people that is 40 kilometres west of London, homes on either side of the suspect’s house were evacuated Wednesday night and other neighbours were told to stay inside.
Mark and Julie Lagerwerf have been living in the area for 20 years. They had just returned from grocery shopping when they found their street blocked by police cruisers. Officers told them to go inside their home and stay there.
“It’s surreal. I don’t know how else to describe it. Shocking,” Mark Lagerwerf said. “Like a Bond movie or a Bourne movie, stuff you’d see in Hollywood.”
Another resident, Irene Lee, said late Wednesday that police had been camped out near her parents’ convenience store since about 4:15 p.m. ET.
At about that time, she said, she was at her home close by when she heard a loud noise. She said that shortly afterward, a police officer came by to tell residents to stay inside their homes.
Lee said there were up to 25 marked and unmarked cruisers outside a home on Park Street, which is right behind her parents’ store.
Ottawa was abuzz with rumours for much of Wednesday after a memo was circulated among National Defence personnel warning of a terrorist threat.
The internal government memo included a photo of a man wearing a balaclava. It was not clear if the man in the balaclava was Driver.
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