25 Apr 2018

Toronto van attack: Alek Minassian charged with 10 counts of murder

6:45 am on 25 April 2018

A driver suspected of killing 10 people and injuring 15 more by ploughing a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto has appeared in court in the city.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory brings flowers on April 24, 2018 to a makeshift memorial for victims in the van attack in Toronto, Ontario.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory brings flowers on April 24, 2018 to a makeshift memorial for victims in the van attack in Toronto, Ontario. Photo: AFP

Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Mr Minassian wore a white jumpsuit, with a shaved head and his hands behind his back. He showed little emotion.

He was read the charges and ordered to have no contact with surviving victims. He will return to court on 10 May.

A man believed to be a relative of Mr Minassian's sat in the front row of the court and wept. Asked by reporters after the hearing if he had anything to say, the man replied "sorry".

Mr Minassian's court appearance came shortly after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed reporters in the city, calling the incident a "senseless attack and a horrific tragedy".

The suspect was arrested several blocks from the scene of Monday's attack, after a tense standoff with a police officer.

What do we know about Alek Minassian?

Alek Minassian

Alek Minassian was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. Photo: LinkedIn

Police say Mr Minassian is from the northern Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill and was not previously known to authorities.

Public safety minister Ralph Goodale said there "would appear to be no national security connections" and Canadian broadcaster CBC cited government officials as saying Mr Minassian was not associated with any known terror groups.

Facebook has deleted Mr Minassian's account, but a copy of a post has emerged published by the suspect shortly before the attack on Monday.

The post, which Facebook confirmed as real to the BBC, praises Elliott Rodger, a 22 year old from California who killed six people with his car in 2014.

It reads: "The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!"

The term "incel" refers to a now-banned group on the message site Reddit where young men discussed their lack of sexual activity and attractiveness to women - often blaming women for the problem.

"Chads and Stacys" refers to attractive men and women who are perceived as better than or unavailable to "incels", which is short for "involuntary celibate".

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) confirmed that Mr Minassian was a member for two months in late 2017. He did not complete his recruit training and requested to be voluntarily released from the CAF after 16 days of the training.

Mr Minassian had previously attended a school for students with special needs in north Toronto, former classmates said.

He would be seen walking around Thornlea Secondary School with his head down and hands clasped tightly together making meowing noises, Shereen Chami told Reuters.

But she said Mr Minassian had not been violent. "He wasn't a social person, but from what I remember he was absolutely harmless," she told Reuters.

Another former student, Ari Bluff, told CBC that Minassian did not seem to have many friends. "I remember seeing him probably just walking down the halls, usually by himself, or in the cafeteria by himself," he said.

Mr Minassian went on to attend Seneca College in the North York area of Toronto, where the van incident took place, CBC reported. Reporter James Moore, with Newtalk 1010, told the BBC he had heard reports that Mr Minassian was regarded as being "quite brilliant".

Who were the victims?

Anne Marie D'Amico was "full of life", her colleague said.

Anne Marie D'Amico was "full of life", her colleague said. Photo: Facebook/Anne Marie D'Amico

So far, the name of only one of those who died has emerged.

She has been identified as Anne-Marie D'Amico, who worked for the US investment company, Invesco, CBC reports. The company's Canadian headquarters are on Yonge Street.

A South Korean foreign ministry official told AFP news agency that two of its citizens were among the dead. The 15 injured remain in hospitals throughout Toronto.

How did the incident unfold?

Police said the suspect in the van mounted the kerb on Yonge Street between Finch Avenue and Sheppard Avenue at about 13:30 local time (17:30 GMT) on Monday and drove into pedestrians along a 1km (0.6-mile) stretch.

Reza Hashemi, who owns a video shop on Yonge Street, told the BBC he heard screaming on the other side of the road. He said the van was repeatedly mounting the pavement and running into people.

One witness told City News that the driver was "hitting anything that comes in the way".

"People, fire hydrants, there's mail boxes being run over," said the unnamed man, who said he was driving behind the van during the incident.

As the van continued, the man said he sounded his horn to try to warn pedestrians. "I witnessed at least six, seven people being hit and flying in the air, like killed, on the street," he said.

Pictures from the scene showed bodies covered in orange sheets along the van's route. Debris and items of clothing were scattered across the pavements and road.

The van was brought to a halt by police several streets away and was quickly surrounded.

The suspect pointed an object at the officer and claimed to have a gun.

"I don't care. Get down," the officer said, before arresting Mr Minassian without firing a shot. The arrest was filmed by two bystanders and the officer was praised for not opening fire.

Mr Trudeau praised the police response, saying officers "faced danger without a moment of hesitation".

- BBC