Far-Right Extremists Will Use Edmonton Terror Attack as Propaganda
'We are at war… These acts against us will not be tolerated.’
The Canadian Press/Jason Franson
On Saturday night, a man who was seemingly inspired by Islamist terrorism attempted to drive fear into the heart of Alberta's capital.
The man, who police say is 30-year-old Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, started his attack a little after 8 PM on Saturday night by allegedly hitting an Edmonton police officer, Cst. Mike Chernyk, with his car. As a result Chernyk flew 15 feet and Sharif allegedly got out and began stabbing the officer. In the ensuing fight, Chernyk defended his gun from the suspect while fighting him off. The man then fled as the 11-year veteran of the force gave chase. In the end, Chernyk, who was suffering from multiple stab wounds and injuries from being struck by the car, was not able to catch Sharif.
Hours later, around midnight, police say Sharif, this time in a rented U-Haul truck, rammed a barricade near Commonwealth Stadium where a football game was being played. The suspect then drove the truck to the downtown core of Edmonton striking four pedestrians—two of which remain in hospital (one in serious condition)—before being stopped by a tactical vehicular maneuver. After deploying a taser and stun grenade, police were able to take Sharif into custody—not a single shot was fired in the whole ordeal, according to police. Within his car EPS say they found a Black Standard flag which is often associated with the terrorist groups ISIS and Al-Shabaab.
Today, in a press conference, police confirmed that Sharif is a Somali refugee and laid 11 criminal charges against him—none of the charges relate to terrorism but those may be laid in the future. Regardless, it's possible to see how the narrative of the events in Edmonton will be co-opted by Canadian far-right ecosystem.
In the last two years, a far-right movement based primarily upon anti-Islamism and a fear of refugees has been growing both within Canada and worldwide. For many of these groups, this marks the first Islamic terrorist attack on Canadian soil during their existence—an attack that is, essentially, what the they have been consistently warning about. Ryan Scrivens, an expert in far-right extremism in Canada, told VICE that there is most likely a vocal response coming from the groups—a response that may work to grow their numbers.
"I think what we're going to see from the far-right or the extreme-right is this 'I told you so' moment," Scrivens told VICE. "They're going to be sending that message to Canadians saying 'we warned you that by allowing brown Muslims into our country, we are running the risk of getting us innocent Canadians killed.'"
While the majority groups in Canada have been publicly quiet following the Edmonton attack, they do seem to be mobilizing. Screenshots sent to VICE show the leader of the Alberta chapter of III% Canada, a US-styled militia built on anti-Islamism which has been growing across the country, reiterating their belief there is a war coming on Canadian soil. The screenshots show that the III%, who have borrowed the same terror threat level system as US Homeland Security, have set their level to orange meaning "high risk of terrorist attack."
"I must remind you. We are at war. That status has never changed. With the heightened security measures we must act accordingly," Beau Welling, the Alberta chapter's leader, wrote his followers in a Facebook message. "...These acts against us will not be tolerated. I will say again. There may come a time when the III%ers may need to step in."
However, Welling seems to realize how important public relationships play into the growth of their group. Welling warned his followers to "be very careful [about] what we say and act over the next coming weeks. We are under attack but we are also being watched on how we act and react."
"Do not take any drastic measures."
The latest numbers released by Stats Canada regarding hate crimes showed that Alberta and Edmonton in particular have seen one of the most dramatic rises in the country. Habiba Abdulle, the executive director Alberta Somali community center, told VICE News on Monday that fear of far-right retaliation against the Somali community is high in Edmonton.
"A lot of Somali families are afraid, especially when this guy is a Somali and a refugee. Is it safe for us to go outside? Will we be attacked? You can see the fear and intimidation a community faces after an attack," said Abdulle.
"You don't know what the far right will do. They [Somali community members] are afraid the far right and the white supremacists will use this event as a tool to spark hate and continue their agenda of hate.... That is where the fear is coming from. They are afraid of the far-right."
When contacted by VICE, Soldiers of Odin Edmonton, one of the first far-right groups to emerge in Canada during the recent resurgence, stated that they didn't want to comment on the attack and that they are "allowing local law enforcement [to] handle it." One of the most active groups in recent days, the Quebec-based Storm Alliance, did not respond to VICE's request for comment and seem relatively quiet on the issue, choosing instead to focus upon their frequent protests.
This isn't to say all groups in Quebec are being quiet. In another group of screenshots sent to VICE, the members of another far-right group in Quebec, La Meute, mused about what has to happen before Canada "wakes up."
"It is already in motion here for a while, but our government refuses to tell us about it, our government is supposed to be 'open and transparent,' and it happens in certain places. How much will it take here?" reads one of the messages in french.
Other posts in the group called for the killing of Muslims in Canada.
Scrivens, speaking to the vicious cycle that exists between the far-right and Islamist terrorism, said that the message that will most likely be pushed by these groups will be "very simple and I think it's going to resonate with a lot of people unfortunately."
"I think it's going to be a very simple and clear-minded answer: that the Liberal government is not protecting us through tougher immigration policies, that people are slipping in, people who are dangerous, people who are nonwhite, and people who are threatening to Canada's safety," said Scrivens.
"There is a chance that it might be used as not only a recruitment tool, but as a tool for these groups to potentially mobilize or for them to stabilize and to unify around this."
With files from Hamdi Issawi in Edmonton.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.