SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU Quebec (Reuters) - A Canadian man who rammed two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one of them, converted to Islam last year and was among 90 people being tracked by Canadian police on suspicion of taking part in militant activities abroad or planning to do so.
Monday’s incident, the first fatal attack on Canadian soil tied to Islamic militants, occurred after Canada announced this month it was joining the battle against Islamic State fighters who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Bob Paulson said on Tuesday that the attacker was one of 90 individuals the force has been investigating. The RCMP had previously seized his passport because it feared he might try to go abroad, Paulson said.
Police killed the attacker shortly after he ran down the two soldiers in the Quebec town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, about 40 km (25 miles) southeast of Montreal.
Police said the man, identified in the media as 25-year-old Martin Rouleau, had waited in a parking lot outside a government services center for veterans for more than two hours before initiating his attack. One of the soldiers hit was in military uniform, police said. The dead soldier was a 53-year-old adjutant. The other soldier is hospitalized.
“What took place yesterday is clearly linked to terrorist ideology,” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney told reporters in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
The attacker fled in his car, was chased by police and shot dead after he emerged from his vehicle when it flipped over into a ditch, police said. They said he had a knife.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) says it is aware of at least 50 Canadians involved in terrorist-related activities with Islamic State and other militant groups in the Middle East.
The government has said it plans to boost the powers of CSIS to track potential militants when they travel abroad.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office said the man was known to federal authorities, and that there were clear indications he had become “radicalized,” a term the government has used to refer to those who support militant Islam.
“I want to express that the authorities can count on our full support in order to get to the bottom of this terrible act,” the prime minister said in a statement.
Canadian security officials have worried for years about the threat of radicalized young men, and the concern became more intense after Canada sent six fighter jets to take part in the campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Rouleau’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, which media reports said he ran under the name Ahmad Rouleau, show he converted to Islam in 2013 and became increasingly political in April 2014.
The entries on Ahmad Rouleau's Facebook page (here) promote Islam as the true religion and Christianity and atheism as false, and some posts have a political tone.
Amarnath Amarasingam, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who studies the foreign fighter phenomenon, said he had been following Rouleau on social media for about six months.
Amarasingam said Rouleau was quoting the Koran in November 2013, indicating he had converted by then. He began referring to “hypocrites” last April, which Amarasingam said typically refers to Western Muslims who have compromised to fit in and hadn’t undertaken an attack on the West.
Television footage outside the house of Rouleau’s father, Gilles Rouleau, in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu showed a police investigator leaving with a bag overnight.
Efforts by Reuters to talk to Rouleau’s father and other members of his family were unsuccessful.
The father told television network TVA that he last saw his son Monday morning, and did not notice any difference in his behavior. “If I had sensed that there was any danger, I would have saved him,” he told a TVA reporter. Rouleau also mentioned that he did not agree with his son’s conversion to Islam, but did not elaborate.
The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, a group which tries to boost understanding of Muslim issues, and which opposes Islamic State, strongly condemned the attack.
With additional reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson in Toronto and David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Amran Abocar and Peter Galloway