Toronto van attack: Here’s what we know about the suspected driver, who appeared to dare police to kill him
Canadian police are questioning a man suspected of running down dozens of pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 15 others, in the centre of Toronto.
Police said the 25-year-old was arrested 26 minutes after he allegedly drove a white rental van into a crowd in the north end of the city, sending bodies flying.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised Toronto police and first responders, who “faced danger without hesitation today”.
“I want to thank them for their courage and professionalism,” he tweeted shortly after the attack.
@JustinTrudeau: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the terrible incident at Yonge and Finch in Toronto. Thank you to the first responders working at the scene – we’re monitoring the situation closely”
Here’s what we know about the van driver and how the incident unfolded.
Who is he?
Police have identified the suspect as Alek Minassian. He lives in the northern Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill.
They said Mr Minassian was not previously known to them and his motives were still unknown.
But Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said the driver’s actions “definitely looked deliberate”.
Mr Minassian’s Facebook page could not be accessed through the social networking site, but a bare-bones version available through the Internet Archive said he attended Seneca College from 2011 to April 2018.
It also said he graduated from Thornlea secondary school in 2011 and listed software development under professional skills.
Former classmate Shereen Chami said Mr Minassian was part of a high school program, in Toronto’s northern suburbs, for students with special needs, which covers learning and behavioural difficulties as well as physical disabilities. He attended a mix of mainstream and separate classes.
Emergency services close Yonge Street following the incident. (AP: Nathan Denette/ Canadian Press)
Ms Chami remembers him walking the halls with his hands together and his head down, and making meowing noises. She said he was not violent.
“He wasn’t a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless,” she said.
A September 2013 blog post said Mr Minassian had started to work at Seneca College’s Centre for Development of Open Technology.
How did it unfold?
Police are still piecing together witness accounts and surveillance video trying to determine exactly what happened.
They said the driver was heading south on Yonge Street about 1:30pm on Monday and the streets were crowded with people when the white rental van mounted the footpath.
Ali Shaker, who was driving near the van at the time, told Canadian broadcast outlet CP24 the driver appeared to be moving deliberately through the crowd at more than 48 kilometres per hour.
“He just started hitting everybody, man. He hit every single person on the sidewalk. Anybody in his way he would hit,” he said.
Video broadcast on several Canadian outlets showed police arresting the driver, dressed in dark clothes, after officers surrounded him and his rental van several blocks from where the incident occurred.
Police said the crime scene was complex and the carnage spanned more than a kilometre.
Mr Minassian appeared to make some sort of gesture at the police with an object in his hand just before they ordered him to lie down on the ground and took him away.
Bystander footage shown on CBC TV showed the suspect repeatedly pointing an object at a police officer who shouts at him to “get down”. At one point the suspect demands: “Kill me”.
The BBC reports the suspect also said he had a gun, but the officer replies: “I don’t care. Get down.”
Mr Minassian was then taken away by police.
The officer has been praised for keeping calm during the incident, with Mr Saunders telling journalists the officer had done a “fantastic job” to understand the “circumstance and environment” and get to a “peaceful resolution”, according to the BBC.
Was it a terrorist attack?
Police have played down a possible connection to terrorism, but have not suggested a possible motive or cause.
Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale said the attack did “not appear to be connected in any way to national security”.
“On the basis of all available information at the present time there would appear to be no national security connection to this particular incident,” he said.
“The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security, based on the information available at this time.”
It had been a clear concern with the presence of cabinet ministers from seven major industrial countries in Canada to discuss a range of international issues in the run-up to the G7 meeting near Quebec City in June.
And what about Alex Minassian?
He’s a random guy who appears to have been caught up in the initial reaction to the incident because of an original misspelling of the suspect’s name.
A lot of media outlets were using the name Alex and not Alek and some even tracked down a social media account they believed belonged to the suspect.
But it turned out to be the wrong guy.
“Not me. No connection. NBC, ABC, CBC, stop harassing my friends and family,” Alex Minassian wrote on his Facebook page.
According to York Region, the mistake became so widespread that Toronto police had to call Alex Minassian to let him know they were aware it wasn’t him.
So what now?
Police said the suspect was scheduled to appear in court at 10:00am on Tuesday (12:00am, Wednesday AEST).
More information on the charges against him are expected to be released at that time.