OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) - A Canadian man who was killed by police on Monday after trying to run over two soldiers in Quebec “had become radicalized,” the government said after the first such incident in Canada since the country joined the fight against Islamic State militants.
The Canadian government did not specify what it meant by radicalized but in the past has used the term to refer to Canadians who become supporters of militant Islamic groups.
Canadian media, citing police, identified the driver as Martin Couture-Rouleau, a resident of the town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal.
A neighbor, speaking on condition that her name not be used, told Reuters the man became radicalized about a year ago after getting involved with extremist Muslims.
Quebec police shot and killed the 25-year-old driver after a chase following the incident. One of the two soldiers who was run over had life-threatening injuries. Police did not say whether the soldiers were in uniform.
“The individual who struck the two (Canadian Armed Forces) members with his car is known to federal authorities, including the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team,” said a statement from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.
“Federal authorities have confirmed that there are clear indications that the individual had become radicalized.”
The incident took place in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, around 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Montreal.
After the collision the driver sped off and was chased by police. He lost control of the car, which landed in a ditch. He was shot after confronting officers, police said.
Earlier in the day, Randy Hoback, a member of Parliament for the ruling Conservative Party, referred in the House of Commons to unconfirmed reports of “a possible terror attack against two members of the Canadian armed forces.”
At the time, Harper said the reports were “extremely troubling” but declined to give more details.
A spokesman for the Surete du Quebec, the provincial police, pressed as to whether the victims had been specially targeted, said that was one of several hypotheses but stressed it would take the police days to work out what had happened.
Canada is sending six fighter jets to take part in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Canadian security officials have fretted for years about the potential threat of radicalized young men, especially those traveling abroad to join militant groups including Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. There was no immediate indication Rouleau had traveled abroad.
Ray Boisvert, former assistant director for intelligence at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency, said he suspects Rouleau was a lone actor who would have been difficult for authorities to stop.
“It reflects what’s going on in a very active threat environment. You have far too many targets and far too many active targets,” he said.
The head of CSIS said on Oct 9 that “we have no information indicating an imminent attack”.
But Jeff Yaworski, deputy director of operations at CSIS, on Monday said the agency was worried about the threat posed by those returning to Canada “after having engaged in threat-related activities” abroad.
“CSIS remains concerned that (Islamic State‘s) message and successful social media strategy could inspire radicalized individuals to undertake attacks here in Canada,” he told the Senate’s national defense committee.
On Oct. 9, Canadian Public Safely Minister Stephen Blaney said police wanted to arrest 80 people who returned to the country after taking part in what he called suspected terrorism-related activities.
A report issued by his ministry at the same time said “global violent extremists” had identified Canada as a target.
Reporting by David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer in Ottawa, Amran Abocar and Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto; Editing by Richard Chang, Diane Craft and David Gregorio