Driver in Toronto van attack faces murder charges

Toronto residents held a candlelight vigil on Tuesday evening to honour victims of a van attack that killed 10 people and injured 15 others, according to local media.
A police officer attending to a victim after a van hit multiple people in the centre of North York in Toronto on Monday. The suspect, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, was charged in court yesterday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted
A police officer attending to a victim after a van hit multiple people in the centre of North York in Toronto on Monday. The suspect, 25-year-old Alek Minassian, was charged in court yesterday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder. Police said they were searching for a motive for the attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Witnesses say he appeared to be targeting people on sidewalk in Monday's incident

TORONTO • A driver deliberately ploughed his white rental van into a lunch-hour crowd in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 15 along a roughly 1.6km stretch of sidewalk thronged with pedestrians, police said.

A 25-year-old man was arrested after a lone policeman stared down the agitated suspect - clothed head-to-toe in black - who appeared to repeatedly draw an object from his hip and point it at the officer.

The attack on Monday took place in the centre of North York, a part of Toronto that has grown over the past two decades into a secondary downtown. Several witnesses told CP24 Television and other networks that the driver appeared to be targeting people, driving to avert street lights as he raced south.

One witness who was travelling behind the van told CP24 that the driver was going about 70kmh or 80kmh when he veered onto the sidewalk and "just started hitting everybody".

While Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said there appears to be "no national security connection" based on information currently available, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the incident on Monday was clearly deliberate and nothing has been ruled out.

Chief Saunders identified the suspect as Alek Minassian and said police were still searching for a motive, declining to provide further details.

Minassian appeared in court yesterday, clad in a white jumper with his hands cuffed behind him.

The public prosecutor asked for him to be detained on 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 of attempted murder. Asked if he understood the charges against him, he sharply said: "Yes."

One witness who was travelling behind the van told CP24 that the driver was going about 70kmh or 80kmh when he veered onto the sidewalk and "just started hitting everybody".

Minassian's next court appearance will be via video on May 10.

Police are still notifying families of the victims and won't publicly confirm identities until that is complete, Constable Caroline de Kloet, a spokesman for the Toronto Police, said yesterday morning.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which has jurisdiction over terrorism cases, said Toronto police were taking the lead in the investigation.

"It was with great sadness that I heard about the tragic and senseless attack that took place in Toronto this afternoon," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. "We should all feel safe walking in our cities and communities."

Canadian officials were cautious in the aftermath of the incident, saying that they would need a long investigation into one of the country's bloodiest mass killings.

Mr Goodale said he saw no reason to raise the national terror threat level.

The incident had echoes of vehicle attacks in the French city of Nice, as well as in London and New York City - a method that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group encouraged followers to use. But mentally ill people with no terrorism connections have also carried out such assaults.

Monday's incident occurred about 30km from the site where Toronto is hosting a meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers from Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, but had no noticeable effect on that event's security.

"These are not the kinds of things we expect to happen in this city," Toronto Mayor John Tory told reporters earlier on Monday.

"We hope that they don't happen anywhere in the world, but we especially don't expect them to happen in Toronto."

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2018, with the headline 'Driver in Toronto van attack faces murder charges'. Print Edition | Subscribe