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‘It’s Not Him’: Questions Raised About Mental Health of Canadian Military Stabbing Suspect

Toronto's police chief said Ayanle Hassan Ali was heard uttering "Allah told me to do this" and "Allah told me to come here and kill people" when he entered a military recruitment building and allegedly started slashing people.
Photo by Toronto Police Services.

The suspect who allegedly cited Allah during a double stabbing at a Toronto military recruitment center was a calm and religious person, according to one friend, who said Ayanle Hassan Ali struggled to cope with an ill mother, and would only leave home to get groceries or go to a mosque.

"I don't know what his mom was diagnosed with, but she was pretty sick," Amolak Grewal told VICE News in an interview, hours after Ali, 27, was charged in a violent attack that injured two Canadian soldiers on Monday.


Amarnath Amarasingam, a Toronto-based researcher on jihadism and foreign fighters, said he spoke with a close family friend on Tuesday who told him Ali's mother suffered from a mental illness — a fact that appeared to affect Ali deeply, and led him to abandon his engineering studies at the University of Calgary.

Amarasingam said the family believes Ali, himself, may have had his own mental health issues.

Ali, a Canadian citizen originally from Montreal, is facing nine charges now, including three counts of attempted murder, two counts of aggravated assault, three counts of assault with a weapon, and one count of weapons dangerous.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said Ali was heard uttering "Allah told me to do this. Allah told me to come here and kill people" on Monday afternoon, when he allegedly entered a military recruitment building in Toronto's north end with a knife and started slashing people, unprovoked.

Canadians - and the — Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau)March 15, 2016

Saunders said Ali walked around the table where a master corporal was seated and started hitting him until he fell to the ground. When the master corporal managed to get up and approach him, Ali slashed him in the upper right arm.

He then tried to do the same to another armed forces member, who managed to get away unscathed, said Saunders.

"We're very fortunate that Canadian Forces, through their training, responded, reacted, and as a result, I can tell you that had they not reacted the changes of this being much more severe, much more serious definitely would've occurred," the chief said.


Saunders warns against turning to 'Islamophobia nonsense' and speculating to explain this incident

— Tamara Khandaker (@anima_tk)March 15, 2016

While only two people were taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries, Ali faces three attempted murder charges. The alleged victims, named in court documents, are Jesus Castillo, Ryan Kong, and Tracy Ann Gerhardt.

Saunders said officers were working with provincial and federal police, to determine whether or not the incident was a terrorist act and whether or not the man had been radicalized. So far, there is nothing to indicate that the accused was working with anyone else, he said, warning reporters not to turn towards "Islamophobia nonsense."

"I don't want this categorizing of a large group of people. That would be very unfair and very inaccurate," he said.

In a message on Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that "Canadians — and the Canadian Forces — will not be intimidated by terror and hate", and urged the victims a speedy recovery.

"This is a very serious incident, nobody can deny that," lawyer David Burke said when asked whether he believed there had been an overreaction to the actions of his client, who appeared in court briefly on Tuesday in a white jumpsuit and only uttered his name. "I seen it in the news myself before I even became involved. I knew it was a serious incident… But I think at the end of the day it remains to be seen exactly what kind of person we're dealing with."


While he wouldn't comment on whether or not his client had expressed any remorse, Burke said Ali "seems very scared" and "unhappy" with the situation he finds himself in.

At this time, Ali's lawyer David Burke has not asked for a mental health evaluation. Hasn't ruled out the possibility for the future though.

— Tamara Khandaker (@anima_tk)March 15, 2016

At his west-end Toronto neighborhood, police guarded the house Ali apparently lived in his with mother and sister.

While most people who lived in the complex, which houses several Somali families who said they know Ali personally, refused to speak to media on the record, several defended him without offering their names.

One woman shouted that she knew "Ayanle was a good, clean boy" who was honest and that she was shocked to hear about his alleged crimes, before driving off. Another woman called him a "gentleman" and praised his family for being excellent neighbors.

Grewal, a friend who lives in the same west-end apartment complex, said Ali's nickname was "big man" and that they regularly play basketball in the summer months. He said Ali was a beloved, albeit quiet presence in the community, helping elderly people throw out their garbage or clean up trash from their lawns.

He described him as a religious and calm person.

"I don't know if he had a lot of friends, but everyone liked him," Grewal said.

"He would only leave the house to go get groceries and go to the mosque," he said. "He went to the mosque every day."


"He always just said, 'You have to earn whatever is given to you. I'd rather work for what I have than do all that other stuff,'" said Grewal, adding that the area is prone to gang activity.

"All I gotta say is that's not him. He might've had some sort of mental disorder, but that's not him," he said.

At the nearby Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque, chair of the board Said Omar said he recognized Ali when he saw pictures, but that he was not a regular.

"He occasionally came to our mosque," he said, adding that he didn't remember Ali being particularly social or ever speaking with him.

Omar condemned Ali's actions.

"What he did is against Islam," he said, calling the idea of God instructing an individual to kill another "alien" to his religion. "God doesn't talk to people directly."

"People who say that kind of thing need medical attention," he said.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims also called the attacks "reprehensible" and urged authorities to investigate the motivation at its root, and examine the perpetrator's mental state.

"We also would like to thank Toronto police chief Mark Saunders for advising the public against allowing this incident to lead to Islamphobia and anti-Muslim retribution," director Ihsaan Gardee wrote in a statement. "It is critical that both media and politicians are clear to distance the acts of this alleged criminal from the wider community. The vast majority of Canadian Muslims, like their fellow citizens of all faiths and backgrounds, abhor violence and condemn any and all criminal acts committed in the name of their faith."


My thoughts are with the — Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan)March 15, 2016

A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called it an "isolated incident" on Monday and said there was no further risk to the public. A spokesperson for CSIS, Canada's spy agency, declined to comment.

The press secretary for the federal minister of defense, Harjit Sajjan, told CTV News that "no suspicious activity" had previously been observed by officials at the recruitment center, but they would "continue to exercise vigilance."

Deeply troubled by the attack on — Erin O'Toole (@ErinOTooleMP)March 15, 2016

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