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Extortion, arsons, shooting: Edmonton police investigating crimes targeting South Asian community

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police investigating arsons, shooting as part of extortion targeting South Asian community'
Edmonton police investigating arsons, shooting as part of extortion targeting South Asian community
A crime spree at the end of 2023 involving several torched homes across Edmonton and a drive-by shooting is being investigated as part of a larger extortion scheme targeting members of the South Asian business community. Morgan Black reports – Jan 4, 2024

A recent crime spree involving several torched homes across Edmonton is part of a larger extortion scheme targeting members of the South Asian business community, say police.

The Edmonton Police Service is investigating at least 18 incidents of extortion that have occurred in the Edmonton area since October.

Police have charged six young men and a youth in connection with arsons and shootings, but on Wednesday they asked people to come forward to report extortion and assist in identifying a person of interest.

The suspects reportedly target members of the South Asian business community using Whatsapp to text or call victims and demand large sums of money.

In some cases, police said the suspects appear to have detailed knowledge of the victim’s personal information, such as family members, vehicles and lifestyle patterns.

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If the victims don’t pay up, their properties get torched — or worse.

New homes set on fire all over Edmonton

Failure to pay the extorted sum has resulted in arson or other property damage to new home builds, show homes and related property, police said.

At least seven cases of arson in the last two months of 2023 have been linked to the investigation, police and fire confirmed to Global News. At least nine homes have been destroyed or heavily damaged.

Police said the arsons are typically committed by a group of young adults and youth, who have been spotted carrying jerry cans.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services received reports of two separate structure fires along Esaiw Place NW at 2:11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. Global News

Investigators are looking for information about the man pictured below, who is a person of interest in a Dec. 29 arson in the far west end of the city.

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A person of interest wanted by Edmonton police in relation to two arsons at under-construction homes on Esaiw Place NW in west Edmonton's Edgemont area on Friday, Dec. 29, 2023.
A person of interest wanted by Edmonton police in relation to two arsons at under-construction homes on Esaiw Place NW in west Edmonton’s Edgemont area on Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. Edmonton Police Service

That overnight fire damaged two under-construction homes along Esaiw Place NW in the Woodhaven Pointe neighbourhood, which is part of the Edgemont development.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said firefighters were called back there the next day when the fires resumed burning.

Nearly a week later, fire investigators were seen still at the scene. Residents of the new neighbourhood who witnessed the fires but didn’t want to be named told Global News they sawa white sedan approach one of the homes and drive away.

The resident said he saw at least three people go inside the empty home before it went up in flames overnight.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services received reports of two separate structure fires along Esaiw Place NW at 2:11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. Supplied to Global News

The man pictured above isn’t the only suspect or person of interest in the alleged extortion investigation scheme.

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On Wednesday, police said more have been charged, including four teenagers suspected of starting fires that destroyed homes in north Edmonton.

Hassan Dembil, 18, Manav Heer, 18, Ravinder Sandu, 19, and a youth have all been charged with arson-related offences for a fire near 48th Street and 174th Avenue in the Cy Becker neighbourhood on Dec. 19.

All four suspects have since been released to appear in court later, police said on Wednesday.

It happened three days after another fire two blocks north, where two homes under construction and one home that was recently completed were destroyed at 176th Avenue and 48th Street.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services confirmed that Dec. 16 fire was deliberately set as well and police said Thursday it is part of the extortion investigation, although no suspects have been linked to that blaze.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS) said two homes under construction and one home that was recently completed have been destroyed by fire in Edmonton’s Cy Becker neighbourhood. Global News

Three other fires in November and one at the end of December have also been tied to the extortion investigation — three of which happened on the same block in southeast Edmonton.

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On Nov. 6, a new home in the Aster neighbourhood went up in flames near 16th Avenue and 12th Street, leaving extensive damage to the windows, the roof and other parts of the home’s second storey.

A spokesperson for Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said someone called 911 at 5:40 a.m. to report a blaze in the area of 16th Avenue and 12th Street on Monday. Global News

Less than a week later on Nov. 12, a similar-looking home under construction at another lot on the same street was also torched, police said.

The flames tore through the second floor of the home, destroying the roof.

A fire on Nov. 12, 2023 destroyed a home near 16 Avenue and 12 Street in the Aster neighbourhood of southeast Edmonton. Global 1 news helicopter

Police said on Sunday, Dec. 31, another home in that exact same area of Aster was deliberately set on fire.

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An arson also happened a few neighbourhoods over in Nov. 30, when a home near 25th Street and 14A Avenue was torched in the Laurel neighbourhood.

In total, the following fires have been confirmed by police to be linked:

  • Nov. 6 and Nov. 12: Fires in the Aster neighbourhood (SE Edmonton) near 16 Avenue and 12 Street (two separate addresses on that same block)
  • Nov. 30: Laurel neighbourhood (SE Edmonton): 25 Street/14 A Avenue
  • Dec. 16: Cy Becker neighbourhood (NE Edmonton): 176 Avenue/49 Street
  • Dec. 19: Cy Becker neighbourhood (NE Edmonton): 49 Street/174 Avenue
  • Dec. 29: Edgemont area (W Edmonton): Esaiw Place
  • Dec. 31: Aster neighbourhood (SE Edmonton): 16 Avenue/12 Street
  • Jan. 7: Secord neighbourhood (W Edmonton): 225A Street near 98 Avenue

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services responded to other arsons during that same time period but they are not part of the EPS extortion investigation.

Threats have escalated to drive-by shootings: police

Edmonton police said the suspects have also been known to make follow-up demands for higher sums of money, “leading to an escalation of violence and drive-by shootings.”

No injuries have been reported as a result of shooting incidents, but they have happened in neighbourhood full of families and police have said the risk of innocent people being injured is high.

One such shooting happened October in the southeast Edmonton neighbourhood of Laurel and was witnessed by police already working in the area.

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Click to play video: 'Targeted drive-by shooting in southeast Edmonton put families at risk: Police'
Targeted drive-by shooting in southeast Edmonton put families at risk: Police

On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 19, a Gang Suppression Team officer saw a white Mitsubishi SUV drive slowly by a home near Mabuhay Park.

Someone in the front passenger seat fired multiple shots at homes in the area — which were occupied by families, including children.

Police said the officer immediately activated the patrol car lights and followed the vehicle as it sped throughout the neighbourhood, trying to evade police.

The SUV eventually stopped a few blocks away. As police approached, EPS said a man got out of the passenger side and pointed a gun at the officer, who was in his vehicle at the time.

Click to play video: 'Drive-by shooting in southeast Edmonton caught in video'
Drive-by shooting in southeast Edmonton caught in video

The SUV then sped off and the man ran away on foot. He was arrested moments later with the help of Air 1 and the tactical team. A handgun was found nearby with the serial number defaced.

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Parminder Singh, 20, was arrested for 12 firearms-related charges. (His arrest was previously announced.)

At the time of his October arrest, Singh was on release in relation to another investigation and had several conditions, including to not possess any firearms. Singh now remains in custody.

On Wednesday, police said another suspect in the extortion investigation — 19-year-old Arjun Sahnan — was also arrested on five firearms-related charges during a Dec. 30 vehicle stop that happened near 17 Street and 49 Avenue.

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