The alleged attacker in the double stabbing at a Canadian Forces recruitment centre said “Allah told me to do this” and investigators are considering possible terrorism charges, Toronto’s police chief says.
Chief Mark Saunders told reporters Tuesday the accused said at the scene “Allah told me to do this. Allah told me to come here and kill people.”
He added it’s believed the accused, 27-year-old Ayanle Hassan Ali, acted alone but that investigators are looking into any possible connections with terror groups.
Saunders said Ali is a Montreal-born Canadian citizen living in Toronto since 2011. He said the accused had no prior contact with police.
He said that while Ali’s alleged comments “would fit a profile” of a terror-inspired attack, it was too soon to ascribe a motive.
RCMP and federal agencies are involved in the case and terrorism charges aren’t being ruled out, Saunders said.
“The investigation is incredibly early. There has to be a lot of analysis that has to be done so that we can give a full and proper picture as to what exactly motivated this act.”
Police are trying to establish a timeline of Ali’s activities leading up to and well before the incident, and anyone with information should contact them, Saunders added.
He cautioned the public shouldn’t “go through that Islamophobia nonsense” in the wake of the attack.
Wearing a white jumpsuit and handcuffs, Ali showed little expression during a brief court appearance Tuesday afternoon. He was remanded in custody until his next appearance Friday.
His lawyer David Burke told reporters Ali is “very scared right now” and may seek bail. Burke refused to answer questions on his client’s personal life or background. The charge sheet states Ali lives in north Etobicoke in the city’s west end.
Police initially announced five charges against Ali but court documents say he faces nine offences: three counts each of attempted murder and assault with a weapon, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of weapons dangerous.
Saunders said Ali walked into the office located in a federal government building in north Toronto end around 3 p.m. Monday and slashed a male soldier behind the counter in the arm with a “large knife,” then tried and failed to stab a female soldier before being subdued by Forces members, one of whom was injured in the process.
Both soldiers were treated for non-life threatening injuries and released.
Saunders said Ali was taken to a hospital for observation because he was “non-responsive” when apprehended.
A spokesman at the recruiting centre said no one had observed any “unusual activities” prior to the attack. The office was open Tuesday.
In a statement, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance commended the Forces members for swiftly detaining the attacker. He said the military continually updates protocols around protection of personnel, and rebuffed any notion of having soldiers switch to wearing civilian attire off base.
“Under current circumstances, our men and women will continue to proudly wear their uniforms in public.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded on Twitter to the attack, saying Canadians and the military “will not be intimidated by terror & hate.”
A bulletin issued to members of the Toronto Police Service on Monday and obtained by Global News warned officers to be aware of “potential sympathizers or lone-actors” who may commit similar acts.
It further reminded officers to “maintain heightened vigilance for suspicious behaviour.”
With files from Cindy Pom, David Shum and The Canadian Press