Ont. terror suspect was 'angry God took his mother': father
A 24-year-old terror suspect who was killed in a confrontation with RCMP in a southern Ontario town Wednesday was “angry God took his mother” at age seven, according to his distraught father, who is a retired soldier.
Aaron Driver, a suspected Islamic State sympathizer who authorities believed was planning to carry out a suicide bombing on Canadian soil was killed in Strathroy, Ont., where he worked at automotive parts supplier Meridian Lightweight Technologies.
Driver had been placed on a peace bond in February after expressing support for Islamic State militants and attacks, including the ones that killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec.
Driver’s father Wayne was informed of the death by his daughter on Wednesday night.
“It was kind of unbelievable, how could he go so far and then reality sets in, and it’s, ‘Oh my god, my son is dead – what was he thinking,” Wayne said in an interview on CTV News Channel Thursday.
Wayne said he hadn’t seen his son for two years, but tried to “connect” last month. “He said I’m not talking to you and he hung up the phone.”
Death of mother
Wayne told CTV Edmonton that his son started as a happy child but became angry and “hated the world” after the death of his mother from brain cancer at age seven.
“I don’t think he truly grieved the loss,” he said.
Aaron was taken to grief counselling but he “would not participate,” according to Wayne, who gave an extensive interview Thursday from Cold Lake, Alta.
Wayne said Aaron was a troubled teenager who moved out of their house at age 16 and lived in a “halfway house.” It was around that time that he found Islam, according to his father.
“When he moved back in with us in 2012, he had stopped using drugs, stopped getting in trouble with the law, stopped drinking,” Wayne said. “He was going back to school to get his Grade 12. He was working. All was well.”
Wayne said that “being Christians, obviously we wanted him to come back to our faith” but that Aaron’s newfound religion “seemed to do him some good.”
In retrospect, he believes Aaron “had a hate on for Christians” and that his son was rebelling because he was “still angry God took his mother.”
Wayne said Aaron may also have been affected by the loss of his son who was “strangled during delivery” when Aaron was 19.
Wayne said Aaron and his girlfriend “did not realize their baby was in distress.”
Visit by CSIS
In early 2015, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service visited Wayne and showed him a thick binder full of online activity in which Aaron expressed support for jihad.
Wayne says he could only get through the first several pages of tweets and Facebook comments.
“When you see babies being murdered laying there in a mass grave and he’s commenting ‘good for you’ my first thought was, what’s wrong with you?” he said.
He said that was the first and last time he ever heard from CSIS.
Wayne said he and wife were “afraid that he may even kill us while we were sleeping, because the hatred had gone that deep.”
When Aaron moved to Winnipeg, Wayne says he asked the local mosque try to “turn him around.” A counsellor reached out, he said, “but obviously he was unable to get through to him as well.”
Wayne said he never gave up on his son, even though his son had unfriended him on Facebook and refused to speak with him over the phone.
“He had a family that loved him,” Wayne said. “He went down a dark path.”
“God tells us, to love the person, hate the sin,” he added. “I mean where would we all be if we hated each other?”
Tip from the FBI
At a news conference in Ottawa Thursday afternoon, RCMP said that police received a tip from the FBI about an “imminent threat.”
The tip included a video of Driver, and a warning that he planned to detonate an explosive device in an urban centre. The RCMP said they were able to quickly determine that Driver was the masked man in the video.
In the video, aired during the news conference, Driver looks directly into the camera as he complains about the “enemies of Islam” and vows an attack on Canada.
Driver was on intelligence officials’ radar for previously expressing his support for Islamic State over Twitter. He applauded the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill and encouraged ISIS to target the Canadian military and law enforcement. Driver often used the alias Harun Abdurahman.
In June 2015, Driver was arrested for allegedly posting Islamic State propaganda online. However, he was never charged. When he was released, Driver was ordered to comply with dozens of conditions, including wearing a GPS tracker.
Last February, Driver’s lawyer and the Crown agreed to a peace bond, saying there were “reasonable grounds to fear that he may participate, contribute directly or indirectly in the activity of a terrorist group.” At the time, Driver had been challenging an attempt by federal authorities to limit his activities on suspicion he might engage in or help with, terrorist activities.
He was allowed to remove his GPS tracking bracelet, but was still prohibited from using a computer, cellphone or social media. The restrictions were to end on Aug. 31.
‘Very reasonable, fairly articulate’
Terrorism export Lorne Dawson told CTV News Channel Thursday that he and his colleagues were “rather surprised” Driver had moved from “talk” to “action.”
Dawson interviewed Driver on behalf of the defence when he was seeking the peace bond and found him to be “in many respects, a very reasonable, fairly articulate, sensible young man” who happened to hold “very strong radical views.”
“He was very firm in his belief that ISIS was justified, the caliphate was true and that (ISIS leader) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the true leader of Muslims,” Dawson said.
Dawson added that although he was “quite certain that if (Driver) had the opportunity, he would have left Canada and tried to travel to Syria,” Driver had “asserted he wasn’t a violent person” and therefore he seemed unlikely to attack Canadian civilians.
With a report from CTV Edmonton's Dan Grummett