The Canadian terror suspect killed during a police raid had recorded what authorities described as a “martyrdom video” in which he warned of an imminent attack, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Thursday.
Canadian authorities scrambled to identify the would-be suicide bomber on Wednesday after they were alerted by the FBI to the existence of the video in which a balaclava-clad man pledges allegiance to Isis.
“Oh Canada, you received many warnings, you were told many times what would become of those who fight against the Islamic State,” said the man.
“Based on the information, the attack was supposed to be taking place within the following 72 hours and was likely to target an urban centre, either during morning or afternoon rush hour,” said Mike Cabana of the RCMP.
Within hours, police had identified the man in the video: 24-year-old Aaron Driver, a Canadian citizen living in the small Ontario town of Strathroy, some 140 miles south-west of Toronto, and who had previously been flagged by authorities for his online posts in support of Isis.
From there, said Cabana, “it was a race against time”. Police made their way to Driver’s residence and surrounded the house, unsure whether he was actually inside.
Late Wednesday afternoon, a man exited the house carrying a backpack and entered a taxi as it pulled up to the house. “The RCMP’s emergency response team engaged with the suspect who detonated a device in back of the cab,” said Jennifer Strachan of the RCMP. A police firearm was deployed, she added. “The cab driver suffered minor injuries and the suspect died during an engagement with police.”
An autopsy would be carried out to confirm whether Driver died from shrapnel or was killed by police fire, she said.
The Ontario provincial police are investigating Driver’s death while RCMP have widened the investigation to include a second location in London, Ontario, a city about a 40-minute drive from where he was living. So far police have no information to suggest that Driver was working with any accomplices.
Police refused to say where the taxi was heading. Driver had asked the cab to take him to a shopping mall in London, located near the city’s main bus and train stations.
“If he had gotten out of that residence before we got there, the scenario would have ended a lot differently. I’m positive of that,” Strachan said.
Authorities in Canada first flagged Driver in 2014. He was arrested in June of last year after communicating with prominent Isis supporters in the UK and US. Concerned that Driver might be a threat to public safety, a provincial court imposed several conditions on him, including a ban on possessing firearms and explosives and from accessing social media as well as reporting twice a month to the RCMP.
His lawyer, Leonard Tailleur, said he was shocked to hear of Wednesday’s events. “He was a very passive individual. There was no indication of aggressiveness or anything like that at all,” he said. “I would have never have thought that it would go to the next level with him.”
Tailleur questioned how Driver would have been able to possess explosives, given that he was being closely watched by authorities. “Everybody knew where he was, that’s for sure,” he told the Guardian. Tailluer said that the phone being used by Driver had been approved and provided by the RCMP.
Police said that although Driver was under supervision, they had no indication in the days and weeks prior that he was planning something. “Mr Driver was one individual among others that had potentially criminal intentions. And our ability to monitor people 24 hours a day and 7 days a week simply does not exist, we can’t do that,” Cabana said. “When individuals have intentions, such as Mr Driver had, there are no conditions that can be put in place that will prevent them from taking action.”
Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 2015, Driver asserted there was no reason for Canadians to believe he was a threat. Born to a Christian family, Driver explained his interest in Islam had been sparked by watching religious debates.
His views hardened as he read up on the Middle East, he told the broadcaster. “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,” said Driver.
He pointed to the gunman who opened fire at the National War Memorial in Ottawa in 2014, calling it a justified attack. “I think the big issue is I’m a Canadian living in Canada, and I’m OK with soldiers or police officers being targeted for what they’re doing to Muslims,” he said. “I think it’s a little hypocritical that people would take issue with people retaliating against them … when it’s the police and the military who are killing Muslims.”
His father, Wayne Driver, was informed by authorities on Wednesday that his son had died after the police raid. “Our worst nightmare has come true,” he told the National Post. “As sad and shocked as I am, it doesn’t surprise me that it has come to this. Aaron was a good kid who went down a dark path and couldn’t find the light again.”