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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Toronto van driver charged with 10 counts of premeditated murder

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged citizens not to live in fear after Monday's rampage which left 10 dead and injured another 15

A Canadian man was charged on Tuesday with 10 counts of premeditated murder after a driving rampage in Toronto that left 10 people dead and 15 others injured along a busy pavement.

In his first court appearance, Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, stood in the dock wearing a white prison jumpsuit, his head shaved and his arms behind his back.

He was also charged with multiple counts of attempted murder after Canada's worst mass killing in almost three decades.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged a rattled nation not to live in fear after the "senseless attack", which took place on Monday afternoon in the country's most populous city.

"We must not start living in fear and uncertainty every day as we go about our daily lives," he told a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. "We must remain a country that is open and free and comfortable with its values, and we will continue to do that."

The prime minister added that "there's no connection to national security", effectively ruling out any terrorist attack.

The suspect fled the scene on Monday but was quickly captured in a tense but brief confrontation with police officers a few blocks away from where his van mounted the pavement and smashed into pedestrians.

Police chief Mark Saunders said the attack appeared to have been deliberate and nothing has been ruled out.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday night hours after the rampage, Mr Saunders said: "The incident definitely looked deliberate."

Police added that they were still searching for a motive, declining to provide details.

“I open all the lanes right now, I don’t close anything until the evidence closes it for us,” Mr Saunders said. “Right now everything is open.”

The incident occurred just before 1.30pm local time, when large crowds of office workers were on lunch breaks.

At least one witness described the driver of the white Ryder rental van appearing to deliberately target victims on his approximately1.6 kilometre-long rampage through the busy Toronto pavements.

The incident ended after a fraught showdown, which has elevated a Toronto police officer to hero status.

Video footage showed the suspect facing off with the single officer, who hasn't yet been identified.

“Shoot me in the head,” the suspect shouted, jabbing his hand in the air as if firing a gun. But the officer refused to fire. Soon after, the man gave up, dropping the item in his hand and falling to his knees. He was then arrested without a shot being fired.

A witness described the bloody aftermath along Yonge Street, one of Toronto’s busiest roads. Toronto is Canada’s largest city with a population of 2.7 million.

“We saw the last the last few people get hit, that’s when we were driving north on Yonge Street, which is one of the busiest streets here in Toronto," a witness named Diego, told Sky News. "I’m still a bit shaking, sorry if I cannot speak properly.”

He followed the trail backward and described people lying on the pavement. Video footage taken from a helicopter showed blood-soaked clothing strewn across the pavement.

“From what I witnessed, I think that’s what happened. It was deliberate. It was on purpose. I don’t know if he was drunk. I don’t know if he maybe had a medical condition,” the witness said.

Officers were called to the scene at 1.27pm (5.27pm GMT), police said.

Television footage showed several first responders treating people on the pavement and an ambulance on standby.

Another witness described a white van careering in and out of pedestrians walking on the pavementalong Yonge Street near Finch Avenue, an area north of Toronto’s centre. The area is mainly residential, and is filled with condominiums and high rises - a commuter belt in a largely affluent neighbourhood. A major subway station near the cordoned off site was shut by police.

Potential acts of terrorism are investigated by RCMP-led national security squads in the Canadian province of Ontario.

The incident was the worst mass killing in Canada since Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at a Montreal engineering school in 1989 before turning the gun on himself. It comes on the heels of several other vehicle attacks around the world, including one in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12, a van attack in Barcelona that left 13 dead, and the lorry loaded with arms that drove into a late-night crowd in Nice, France, in 2016, killing 80 people.

“At this point we are still gathering information on the incident,” said RCMP Inspector Don Halina, of the Ontario Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. ​