The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was able to thwart a terror plot after the FBI tipped them off to a "martyrdom video" that showed a masked man threatening to carry out an attack in Canada, officers said Thursday.
The RCMP played the video at a news conference on Thursday that showed 24-year-old Aaron Driver pledging allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State and saying that Canada will "experience what it's like to be targeted for your belief, insha'Allah." He said he was responding to a call for violence and "we are thirsty for your blood."
Driver was killed later on Wednesday during a confrontation with police officers who intercepted him just as he left a residence in the Ontario town of Strathroy and got into the back of a taxi with a backpack and a bomb. Driver then detonated the bomb, injuring the taxi driver, and was killed shortly after that.
"It's not clear how Mr. Driver died," assistant commissioner Jennifer Strachan told reporters. "He was engaged with police, but I can't confirm if there was shrapnel that he took from that cab or whether it was the engagement with police." Strachan added that the investigation is ongoing and an autopsy will be conducted. She said it's also unclear at this point how Driver obtained the explosive.
"It ended rather tragically but it could have had a completely different ending with a significantly greater loss of life," said deputy commissioner Mike Cabana. "If we were not able to apprehend him based on his actions when he was confronted, it could have been significantly more dreadful."
Driver was well-known to Canadian law enforcement for openly supporting the Islamic State on Twitter using the pseudonym Harun Abdurahman. He was arrested and placed on a terrorism peace bond last summer over fears he would participate in terror-related activities. He had never been charged with a crime, but the peace bond placed a number of restrictions on him including not accessing a computer. He had recently moved from Winnipeg to Strathroy.
Even though Driver was placed under a peace bond that restricted his movements, Strachan said that he was not under physical surveillance before his death, but that there were "ongoing efforts" such as support from his family, and routine inquiries made with local police about him.
Cabana added that Driver had close connections with a number of high-profile Islamic State jihadists including the group of men alleged to have plotted an ISIS-inspired attack in Australia, as well as Elton Simpson, one of two gunmen who opened fire last year at an event in Texas that featured cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad .
2)Among Driver's followers on Twitter were TX attacker Elton Simpson & — Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz)August 11, 2016
On Thursday afternoon, it was reported that ISIS took responsibility for Driver's actions. According to the Amaq News Agency, "the executor of the attack targeting police in #Canada was a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the operation in response to calls to target coalition countries."
ISIS has claimed credit for attack in Canada, targeting police. Below is the screengrab from their Amaq News Agency — Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi)August 11, 2016
As with most Amaq reports re attacks claimed by IS, name of Canadian IS 'soldier' Aaron Driver not included in claim — Michael S. Smith II (@MichaelSSmithII)August 11, 2016
When asked whether the fact the FBI tipped the RCMP off to a potential threat meant that Canadian law enforcement had missed something, Cabana said it was just the opposite. "Sometimes we share information with the Americans that allows them to take action … sometimes they share information with us," he said.
"It doesn't say anything about the abilities of the Canadian security agencies … It points to the strength of authorities."
Statement from Amb — U.S. Embassy Ottawa (@usembassyottawa)August 11, 2016
Cabana added that Canada has seen very few large scale terror attacks, like those seen across Europe, partly because of the collaboration among Canadian law enforcement. He added that "proximity in Europe to some key hot spot countries is likely a factor that facilitates these types of attacks [there]."
"There's been a number of incidents where law enforcement in Canada has been able to intervene to prevent attacks in the last several years, and I think that's a reflection of the level of collaboration we have here," he said.
Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne