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10 dead as van ploughs into Toronto pedestrians, police say rampage deliberate

Over a period of approximately 20 minutes, the driver steered the white van on to the sidewalk, crashing into multiple pedestrians.

world Updated: Apr 24, 2018 22:30 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Toronto, Hindustan Times
Toronto,Toronto van attack,Canada attack
The van that was driven into a crowd by 25-year-old Alek Minassian in Toronto , Canada, on Monday killing 10 pedestrians. (Reuters Photo)

The 25-year-old man responsible for one of the worst acts of carnage in Canada has been charged with 10 counts of first degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder after being presented in a Toronto court on Tuesday morning.

Alek Minassian, from Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto, drove the white van that ploughed into pedestrians in a busy business district, causing 10 fatalities and leaving 15 people injured.

While no motive has been established for the mass murder, the Globe and Mail quoted an unnamed classmate of Minassian as saying that he appeared to suffer from “significant social or mental disability”.

Multiple Canadian outlets, including CBC and GlobalNews, reported on a possible link to the “incel rebellion”, referring to men who consider themselves involuntary celibates after being rejected by women. Unverified Facebook posts bearing Minassian’s image appeared to connect him to that movement.

The incident occurred at 1.30 pm close to the intersection of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue, a major business centre with several office buildings. Over a period of about 20 minutes, the driver steered the van on to the sidewalk, crashing into multiple pedestrians.

Fire fighters stand near a covered body after the van attack. (Reuters photo)

The driver was finally confronted by a police officer, who subdued him and placed him under arrest. A stretch of more than a kilometre in North York area was blocked by police as a crime zone, even as makeshift memorials to the massacre cropped up in the vicinity.

In dramatic videos of the confrontation between Minassian and the policeman, the driver is heard shouting “Kill me!” as the officer draws his weapon to get him to surrender. At one point, the driver threatens the officer, saying he has a gun. The standoff ended as the policeman rushed him, sending him to the ground and handcuffing him.

According to his Linkedin profile, Minassian was from Richmond Hill and was a student of computer software at Seneca College from 2011 till this year. The van he drove was rented from a company called Ryder, which said in a statement it was “cooperating fully with authorities”.

Officials believe this was an isolated incident and public safety and emergency preparedness minister Ralph Goodale told media that “on the basis of all available information…there would appear to be no national security connection to this particular incident”. Toronto Police chief Mark Saunder described the rampage as “deliberate” but said Minassian was not known to the police, nor was there any indication he was a member of any terror group.

Ten victims were taken to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where officials announced two of them arrived with “vital signs absent and were pronounced dead” while five were in critical condition.

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, plunged into grief as news of the incident filtered through. Mayor John Tory said, “Our city denounces this and all acts of violence and we are united in our grief over this devastating loss of life.”

As reports of the mass murder came through, the matter was raised in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Opposition leader Andrew Scheer asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for an update. Later in the evening, Trudeau said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office: “It was with great sadness that I heard about the tragic and senseless attack that took place in Toronto this afternoon. On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the loved ones of those who were killed, and my thoughts for a fast and full recovery to those injured.”

The White House also reached out. A statement by the press secretary said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those affected, and we wish a full recovery to those injured. The United States Government pledges to provide any support Canada may need.”

In the city impacted by outrage, the Toronto sign at City Hall was dimmed while official flags were flown at half-mast.

First Published: Apr 24, 2018 07:48 IST