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Edmonton terror attack: City rallies around police and Somali community

The 11-year veteran of the Edmonton Police Service targeted by an attacker on Saturday night is recovering home with family, while the suspect faces terrorism-related charges.

Edmonton, Alberta is rallying together after a suspected terrorist attack sent five people to hospital, including one police officer.

At an event held Sunday night, aimed at expressing solidarity with both the Edmonton Police Service and the city’s Muslim community, hundreds of locals assembled outside city hall to denounce the attack and any hate that may stem for it.

“What they are trying to do is divide us, but this will unite us, and we will overcome as Edmontonians, as Canadians, and most of all as human beings,” said Ahmed Abdulkadir, leader of a Somali community organization.

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“That the events of last night don’t define who we are as Edmontonians, but it will be events like this and our response to the message of hate that will tell the world who we really are,” Inspector Trent Forsberg of the Edmonton Police Service told the gathering, adding: “I don’t think that, as Edmontonians, we are prepared to go quietly into the night.”

The rally comes the day after a calculated and seemingly planned-out attack took aim at the provincial capital on Saturday night.

The initial attack targeted a police officer on traffic duty near the city’s football stadium, and continued in a high-speed chase through downtown where the assailant, in a U-haul truck, hit four civilian pedestrians.

A 30-year-old Edmonton man has been arrested on ten criminal charges in connection with the attack, including terrorism offences, after a pair of attacks injured at least five across Edmonton on Saturday night. He is currently being questioned by police.

Edmonton Police confirmed in a Sunday evening press conference that the man facing charges is a refugee from Somalia. Other media have named the man in custody, but police say they will not yet confirm his identity.

Police believe the attacker acted alone.

Police also confirmed the man in custody was previously investigated by the RCMP in 2015 for “espousing extremist ideology.” The RCMP concluded, at the time, there was insufficient evidence to lay charges at the time, and that he did not pose a threat to the public.

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Edmonton police said they found an flag bearing the shahada — the flag associated with terrorist organizations like Islamic State and al-Shabaab in the driver’s seat of the car used in the attack.

“He was in a struggle for his life, holding on to his gun with one hand and blocking the knife with the other.”

The attack left five injured: Four civilians and one Edmonton police officer. The officer, Cst. Mike Chernyk, was transported to hospital with various injuries, including stab wounds to the head and multiple contusions after being struck by the vehicle, according to police.

“He’s in good spirit, although those injuries are substantial,” Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht told reporters on Sunday.

As of Sunday night, Chernyk, an 11 year veteran of the force, “has been released from hospital is now resting at home with family with various injuries,” according to a police release.

Knecht said the officer managed to, despite his injuries, hold off the attacker.

“He was in a struggle for his life, holding on to his gun with one hand and blocking the knife with the other,” Knecht said. The chief lauded the officer’s training and experience in ensuring that the attacker did not manage to obtain a firearm.

“In fact, no shots were fired anywhere in this incident,” Knecht said later.

Of those hit by the van, two have been released from hospital while two are being held for observation, although are not in critical condition. They faced injuries ranging from broken bones to a fractured skull and cranial bleeding.

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Edmonton Police released video of the incident on Sunday morning, in hopes that witnesses to the incident or friends of the suspect will come forward.

The incident began around 8:15 Saturday night, when a sedan slammed into a traffic barricade, set up near the Commonwealth Stadium for the football game, hitting a uniformed police officer. The driver jumped out and “viciously attacked” the officer, according to Knecht, stabbing him several times with “a large knife.”

The video of the scene shows the officer struggling with the attacker before getting to his feet as the assailant runs off.

Police confirmed that he fled on foot to a rented U-haul truck.

Some four hours later, before midnight, police stopped the truck at a checkpoint, near Wayne Gretzky drive, nearly three kilometers away (1.8 miles.) When the officer identified the driver as being the same name as the owner of the sedan, the driver accelerated.

In a high-speed chase that ensued, police say the driver attempted to hit pedestrians in crosswalks and alleyways. Knecht said four victims have been identified, all sustaining injuries, but suggested there could have been more.

“The truck drove left of centre on several occasions, nearly t-boned one vehicle, and attempted to run over civilians,” Knecht said on Sunday evening.

“The decision was to stop the vehicle.”

Four police cars pursued the truck and intervened, knocking the U-haul on its side. From there, police broke the front windshield and used a stun grenade to disorient the driver. They used a tazer to incapacitate him.

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“This is Edmonton, we’re a very tolerant community, very tolerant society, we’re Canadian.”

Following the attack, Canada’s threat level remains unchanged, at “medium,” where it has been for the last three years. A national security team from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is already on the scene in Edmonton.

This isn’t Edmonton’s first time grappling with youth inspired by the Islamic State. In 2013, three Edmonton cousins from the Somali community — Mahad Hirsi, Hamsa Kariye and Hersi Kariye — were killed after going overseas to fight for IS. Edmonton’s sister city to the South, Calgary, also has a history with radicalization with a downtown Calgary mosque and tower building being linked to several young men going overseas to fight with ISIS. The mosque closed in early 2017.

In 2015, Edmonton became the target of East African militant group al-Shabaab, with the group releasing a video focusing on the West Edmonton Mall for a potential attack.

In recent months, as IS has lost significant territory in Iraq and Syria, social media accounts linked to and inspired by the group have encouraged supporters to conduct lone wolf attacks with vehicles and knives.

In August, a cell of men, believed to be inspired by IS, conducted a van ramming attack in central Barcelona followed by car attacks on police officers elsewhere in Spain. Those attacks left 16 dead.

VICE News previously travelled to Calgary to investigate why so many Albertan youth have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

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Edmonton Police kept a tight lid on information as events unfolded Saturday night.

One man was in a downtown Edmonton bar — near where the car chase ended — and saw the aftermath and the confusion.

“The music and service was never interrupted, so you basically only knew something was up from people returning from smoke breaks,” he told VICE News, describing a confusing situation. “Even then, I didn’t know the details until this morning and thought the stabbing and the accident were unrelated.”

The witness, who holds a government job and was not authorized to speak on the record, counted eight ambulances.

The White House issued a statement on Sunday condemning the attacks.

“Law enforcement authorities from the United States are in touch with their Canadian counterparts to offer assistance with the ongoing investigation,” the statement said.

When asked about the possibility of backlash against Edmonton’s Somali community, Knecht stated repeatedly that this man was an individual and doesn’t represent Somali population of Edmonton.

“This is Edmonton, we’re a very tolerant community, very tolerant society, we’re Canadian,” said Knecht. “We have tremendous tolerance, we welcome everyone This is an isolated incident, involving a single individual. I don’t think we can make any broad statements or broad conclusions based on a single individual and single incident.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on Sunday morning condemning the attack.

“While the investigation continues, early reports indicate that this is another example of the hate that we must remain ever vigilant against,” said Trudeau. “The RCMP and the Edmonton Police Service … are working closely together to bring those involved to justice.”

Police identified the vehicle as a white 2015 Chevrolet Malibu and are encouraging anyone with relevant information to call police at 1-780-449-0209.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.