MONTREAL – The man police say deliberately drove a car into two soldiers in a “despicable act” the government linked to terrorist ideology had been arrested by RCMP this summer as he was getting ready to leave the country, a spokeswoman for the federal police force said Tuesday.
Supt. Martine Fontaine said authorities met with Martin Couture-Rouleau as recently as Oct. 9 and that there was nothing to suggest any such violent behaviour was in the offing. One of the soldiers struck by the car on Monday died.
“There was no indication then of his intentions,” Fontaine told a news conference.
“On the contrary, he seemed open to the idea of maybe taking measures to change his ways.”
Mounties began investigating Couture-Rouleau, 25, last June when they saw on his Facebook account he was “radicalizing” himself.
Couture-Rouleau was eventually arrested and questioned in July as he was preparing to leave the country for Turkey.
“We weren’t able to determine that he wanted to commit an act abroad,” said the RCMP superintendent. “If we had had reasons to believe that Mr. Rouleau would commit a terrorist act or a criminal act, we wouldn’t have let him go.”
The investigation continued, with authorities meeting Couture-Rouleau on several occasions along with the imam at the mosque he went to.
Earlier, the RCMP commissioner said Couture-Rouleau had his passport seized because he was suspected of being an extremist with possible terrorist links.
Bob Paulson said the passport was confiscated and he confirmed he was one of 90 suspected extremists being investigated by the RCMP.
“That’s what follows from the analysis; his passport was seized by us …” Paulson told reporters after an appearance before the House of Commons house affairs committee.
“He was part of our investigative efforts to try and identify those people who might commit a criminal act travelling abroad for terrorist purposes. In that respect, we were working him and other suspects.”
Watch below: RCMP commissioner explains the details around the seizure of Rouleau’s passport
Just days before the deadly attack, Canada’s domestic terrorism threat level was quietly elevated from unlikely to “could occur” for the first time in four years, Global News has learned.
Last Friday, the terrorism threat level in Canada rose from low to medium for the first time since Aug. 13, 2010, according to an internal document obtained by Global News.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the system is an “internal tool” for security agencies to inform first responders of the threat level in Canada.
“The decision to raise the level is linked to an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations like (ISIS), Al Qaida, Al Shabaab and others who pose a clear threat to Canadians,” spokesman Jean-Christophe de Le Rue said in an email.
“This level means that intelligence has indicated that an individual or group within Canada or abroad has the intent and capability to commit an act of terrorism, and that the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre assesses that a violent act of terrorism could occur. This increase is not the result of a specific threat.”
Watch below: CSIS quietly raised the terror threat level just days before the attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, but top intelligence officials bluntly admit they can only do so much. Vassy Kapelos explains.
Police said the car was driven deliberately into the two soldiers in what Blaney called an act of violence against Canada that was “clearly linked” to terrorist ideology.
“What took place yesterday is clearly linked to terrorist ideology, and that’s why we’re offering the support of the INSET (Integrated National Security Enforcement Team) in the investigation,” said Blaney Tuesday. “This is a terrible act of violence against our country, against our military, against our values.”
Police have said they shot the man following a car chase after he had struck the two soldiers with his vehicle in the parking lot of a shopping mall.
Provincial police identified the soldier who died as warrant officer Patrice Vincent, 53.
In the Commons, Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised him as a 28-year veteran who served with distinction across the country.
“This was a despicable act of violence that strikes against not just this soldier and his colleagues, but frankly against our very values as a civilized democracy,” he said.
“We will continue to stand with the men and women of the Armed Forces who defend us against these threats.”
Vincent served in Valcartier, Comox, Halifax, Trenton, Esquimalt, Edmonton, North Bay and Montreal.
Provincial police described the second soldier’s injuries as less serious and said his life was not in danger.
Lt. Guy Lapointe told a separate news conference Tuesday that the act was deliberate and that one of the two soldiers was in uniform. Blaney said that as far as he knows no order has been given to members of the Canadian Forces to not wear their fatigues in public.
Paulson said he does not believe the slain man had co-conspirators.
“We don’t suspect that, but we’re open to that and we’re concerned about that, so we’re going to be pursuing every investigative avenue to satisfy ourselves that we’ve eliminated that possibility,” he noted.
On Monday, Lapointe said the shooting occurred after the man hit the two pedestrians in the parking lot of a shopping mall and took off.
That triggered a chase that ended with the man losing control and his car rolling over several times.
Lapointe said the man was brandishing a knife when he emerged from the vehicle.
Provincial police said Couture-Rouleau called 911 during the car chase to claim responsibility for hitting the soldiers.
With files from Global News and The Canadian Press reporters Peter Rakobowchuk and Stephanie Marin in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Nelson Wyatt in Montreal