Terror suspect neighbours: Why no warning?
STRATHROY, Ont. — Some neighbours of a terrorism suspect killed in a dramatic police operation say they should have been warned the man had moved to the southern Ontario town while the Toronto Transit Commission said Thursday it had received only a “very general” alert from authorities about a terror threat.
A day after the standoff that led to Aaron Driver’s death, several Strathroy residents said they were stunned to learn a man believed to be a terror sympathizer had been living in their midst.
Harry Denharton, who lives nearby, said he heard two loud bangs Wednesday afternoon but only learned later what had happened.
He said residents “have the right to know” when someone who may pose a danger moves in, partly so that they can keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Transit agencies in Toronto were warned of a security threat before the RCMP confronted Driver, who had been under a court order not to associate with any terrorist organization, in the town west of Canada’s largest city.
Details on just what happened have yet to be released; the RCMP was scheduled to hold a news conference in Ottawa at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday. The RCMP said it had received credible information of a potential terror threat in a major Canadian city, identified a suspect and taken action to ensure there was no danger to the public.
On Thursday morning, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission said the agency was made aware of a terror threat investigation early the previous day, but noted that it had no specifics attached.
Brad Ross said that as a precaution a “vigilance notice” was issued to all staff encouraging them to say something if they saw something of concern. He said such notices are commonly issued after security incidents around the world or if the TTC is advised of threats closer to home.
“Every circumstance is different,” he said when asked how serious threats must be to prompt warnings to commuters as well as staff.
“The response would be based on what those circumstances were. There’s not a cookie cutter to how we do those things. After the … events on Parliament Hill of a couple years ago, we did issue a public address announcement that played in the system reminding people that if they do see something, to say something.”
He added the information the TTC was given Wednesday was “very general about a credible threat that was being investigated by police but it had no location, it didn’t even say a city as far as I know.”
A spokeswoman for Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency which runs the Greater Toronto Area’s regional transit lines, says it was also advised of a security threat.
Anne Marie Aikins says the agency raised its level of vigilance and worked closely with national, provincial and local forces in response.
In Strathroy, a neighbour of Driver’s said he couldn’t recall ever seeing the man around town.
But he said Wednesday’s incident — and the discovery that a terror suspect lived only a stone’s throw away — hit “a little too close to home.”
“For me, having two kids and my wife and a possible terrorist … sympathizer down the street, it’s kind of … it’s a little crazy.”
Last year, federal authorities were so suspicious Driver might have ties to a terrorist group that he bounced in and out of jails and courtrooms for months, all without any actual charges ever being laid — and he had no criminal record at the time.
In June 2015, Driver was first picked up in Winnipeg. Published reports at the time suggested Driver posted messages on social media that praised terrorist activities, including the attack on Parliament Hill in October 2014 by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University who studies radicalization and terrorism, maintained in 2015 that Driver posted for several months on social media about disliking Canada and about a desire to move overseas.
Mounties applied for a peace bond that could impose limits on Driver’s activities, alleging in provincial court documents that investigators believed he might help with terrorist group activities.
When Driver, who was in his mid-20s, was released later that month, he was ordered to comply with 18 different conditions, including wearing a GPS tracking device.
In an interview with the CBC in 2015, he described himself as a Muslim.
“And I believe everything that comes along with that,” he said. “I don’t think Muslims really belong in the West. Our ways of life aren’t compatible. We can’t … practice our religion to the fullest extent here, living under Canadian laws or just western laws in general.”
Driver was asked what it would take for him to reconsider his pro-terrorism beliefs.
“What it would take would be for the West to just stop killing Muslims, you know, stop bombing. Stop arresting Muslims,” he said.
“Take responsibility for the crimes they’ve committed in the past and just stay at home and work on their own problems instead of trying to solve other people’s problems by dropping bombs on them or trying to force democracy on them.”
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By Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press