A man who attacked a police officer with a knife and deliberately plowed into pedestrians on Edmonton’s busiest downtown strip is being investigated for “acts of terrorism,” Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht said at a press conference early Sunday morning.
The man is in custody following a high-speed chase just before midnight through streets filled with bargoers and local football fans. The chase ended only after the white U-Haul struck four pedestrians and crashed onto his side on a side street.
The condition of the four pedestrians is unknown. Knecht confirmed the officer who was attacked was not critically injured.
“We believe the individual acted alone,” Knecht said. He confirmed that an ISIS flag was seized from the vehicle initially connected with the attack on the police officer.
Knecht said the man is known to police, but said after the officer was stabbed, police didn’t expect a second event of this magnitude.
“Did we have any forewarning of this event? Absolutely not,” he said.
EPS spokesperson Scott Pattison said following the officer stabbing that there was no further risk to the public.
Witnesses out in Edmonton’s downtown described the white van was speeding west down Jasper Avenue at a high speed, with the police directly behind.
“The police cars just kept coming. They just kept coming,” said Jaylene Ellard, who was out with a friend when the scene unfolded on the bar-filled avenue on a crisp early fall evening.
Some of the police vehicles started to block off the intersections that spine north or south off Jasper Avenue while others pursued the white van, Ellard said.
Brian McNeill was with a group of friends in the dusty parking lot just west of Boston Pizza at 106th Street when the van and police vehicles tore down the street. He estimated the cars were travelling at between 70 and 80 km/h.
“That high-speed chase should have never, ever in a million years have happened downtown,” said McNeill. “If you’ve got 20 cops chasing one guy and there’s pedestrians that are walking down this road?”
McNeill said the U-Haul was speeding down the wrong side of the street. Another witness said the van travelled as far as 109th Street, turned north, cut through an alley then back-tracked in the opposite direction down Jasper Avenue.
‘Just a loud bang’
Then, as several witnesses recounted, pedestrians were struck near 107th Street. It is not known the extent of their injuries or how many people were hit.
McNeill and his friends, gathered in the back of a pickup, said they heard a lone gunshot after the collision.
On the other side of Edmonton’s busy main strip, Pat Hannigan also thought he heard a single gunshot.
“It was just a loud bang. I thought there was someone who got shot,” he said Sunday.
But Hannigan believes the noise was the sound of the U-Haul van striking the sidewalk near 107th Street and 100th Avenue.
“I saw the van on its side, it flipped over … and they had a guy handcuffed on the ground and obviously they smashed out the window.”
He said police handcuffed the man from the vehicle.
About an hour after the chase, bargoers on Jasper Avenue were calm but confused at the massive police presence. Music continued to blare from the biggest bars, and some Eskimos fans were blaring their fog-horns into the mayhem of the street.
Pedestrians were turned away from certain routes where police cars had set up and blocked the passage.
Many in Edmonton’s downtown had earlier in the evening been at the Eskimos game on the city’s north side, and had heard of an incident involving a police officer.
EPS has confirmed that while thousands of fans packed Commonwealth Stadium for the game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a man rammed his Chevrolet Malibu into a police vehicle station at a routine traffic blockade around 8:15 p.m.
Earlier in the evening, EPS spokesman Scott Pattison confirmed there was an “altercation” between the man and the officer after the police car was rammed. That left the officer in hospital but not seriously injured.
The confrontation was “unexpected,” Pattison said.
He said there was no risk to the public, despite the manhunt underway.