Canada fears new Islamist threat after soldier killed

People walk in front of a Service Canada building where a suspected Islamic militant deliberately ran over two soldiers with his car, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec on Oct 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People walk in front of a Service Canada building where a suspected Islamic militant deliberately ran over two soldiers with his car, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec on Oct 21, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MONTREAL (AFP) - Canada was faced with the specter of Islamist violence on Tuesday after an attack by a suspected extremists killed a soldier, a day before Ottawa deployed warplanes to bomb ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) militants.

The assailant was fatally shot by police on Monday after he ran over two soldiers with his car in a Quebec parking lot - a scenario which had been depicted only last month in ISIS propaganda.

The suspect was described by Canadian authorities as someone they believed had become "radicalised." At a press conference, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the attack was "clearly linked to terrorist ideology'.

"I am horrified by what took place here," he said. "This is a terrible act of violence against our country, against our military, against our values."

The driver smashed his car into the two soldiers in a supermarket parking lot before fleeing with police in pursuit.

Police said the 25-year-old suspect crashed his Nissan Altima into a roadside ditch and rolled it over. When he extricated himself from the wreckage brandishing a knife, officers shot him.

The slain soldier had been admitted in critical condition to a hospital in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

Officials said the injuries to the other soldier were not life-threatening.

The motive behind the attack is being investigated. Police said the suspect may have stalked his victims, noting he sat in his car in the parking lot for more than two hours before the attack.

Quebec police said the "terrorist thesis (was) being considered by investigators," but they did not specify any links between the suspected attacker and any outlawed groups.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, meanwhile, said the suspect "was known" to the state's anti-terrorism task force.

Last month, ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for supporters living in coalition member countries, including Canada, to launch spontaneous attacks against their non-Muslim countrymen.

"If you can kill a disbelieving American or European - especially the spiteful and filthy French - or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever... including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the (ISIS), then rely upon Allah, and kill him," he said.

"Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car..." On Tuesday, six Canadian fighter jets took off from their base in Cold Lake, Alberta and headed to Kuwait, where they will join a US-led force launching airstrikes on the Islamic State group in Iraq.

The ISIS group gained international attention in August, when its fighters and allied militant groups swept through the Iraqi city of Mosul and overran territory north and west of Baghdad.

Western governments fear that the group could eventually strike overseas, but their biggest worry for now is its gains in Iraq and Syria and the likely eventual return home of foreign fighters.

This specific concern led Ottawa to also provide its intelligence agency with new powers to track Canadian citizens with suspected terror links when they travel abroad.

Ottawa said it was aware of more than 130 Canadians overseas who are "suspected of terrorism-related activities." Eighty citizens and immigrants, meanwhile, have returned from war zones - including Iraq and Syria - and were suspected of possible links with "terrorism" groups, it said.

On Monday night, authorities searched the car attack suspect's home and interviewed his contacts.

Local media said the suspect had converted to Islam one year ago and his Facebook page seemingly glorified extremist acts.

One neighbor of the suspect told a local TV station: "There was sort of a change in the last year or two."