The Edmonton man accused of stabbing a police officer and driving into pedestrians as part of an alleged terrorist attack was ordered back to his home country of Somalia by U.S. officials in late 2011.
A senior source in the Canadian federal government confirmed that Abdulahi Hasan Sharif had been detained by U.S. authorities and was then released. A few months later, he came to Canada where he claimed refugee status. The source said Mr. Sharif, accused of violent attacks on Saturday night in Edmonton's inner city and downtown, did not face any criminal charges in the United States.
The new information about the man's history was revealed late Tuesday as U.S. officials put out a statement that said a Somali national with the same name as Mr. Sharif, but slightly different spelling, was ordered deported from California in the summer of 2011.
Mr. Sharif is named as Abdullahi Hassan Sharif by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. According to the statement from the U.S. law enforcement agency late Tuesday, U.S. officials took him into custody in San Diego in July, 2011, and held him at the city's Otay Mesa Detention Center.
"On September 22, 2011, an immigration judge ordered him removed to Somalia. Mr. Sharif waived his right to appeal that decision," the statement said.
Mr. Sharif was released on a supervision order, and he failed to report to the agency's enforcement and removal operations in January, 2012. He couldn't be located after that, the statement said.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection statement added that Mr. Sharif had no known criminal history at the time. No further details about the particulars of Mr. Sharif's status in the U.S., arrest or deportation order were given.
On background, a U.S. official said slight variations in the spelling of the name of someone seeking to enter the U.S. are not unusual.
Earlier this week, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had said Mr. Sharif arrived in Canada in 2012 and was granted refugee status. Late Tuesday evening, Hursh Jaswal, a spokesman for Canada's Immigration Minister, said: "As Minister Goodale has stated, there was no information that would have raised any red flags when he entered Canada." Mr. Jaswel noted, "Being detained for immigration purposes in another country would not prevent someone from being able to make an asylum claim in Canada."
Three years after he arrived in Canada, Mr. Sharif was flagged as a potential terrorist threat. Mr. Goodale and the RCMP have declined to give details of the 2015 investigation, with the RCMP saying only that they conducted a thorough probe based on a tip Mr. Sharif was "espousing extremist ideology." They found nothing to indicate he was a threat to public safety and no evidence to support charges or a peace bond, or even continue the investigation.
Mr. Sharif appeared in an Edmonton court via video on Tuesday dressed in an orange institutional jumpsuit. He had no lawyer as he appeared on five counts of attempted murder, five counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm, and one weapons offence for having possession of a large knife. The attack on Saturday evening has been repeatedly described by police as a suspected terrorist act – but Mr. Sharif is not currently facing terrorism charges. RCMP say that aspect of the investigation is ongoing.
The 30-year-old stood passively in court with his hands clasped before him, a large bruise clearly visible on his forehead. A Somali interpreter translated the court proceedings to Mr. Sharif, who did not speak but occasionally nodded to show he understood.
The charges were adjourned for six weeks until Nov. 14, although there is a possibility lawyers could bring the case forward for a bail hearing sooner.
There appeared to be no one in court who personally knew Mr. Sharif, but two members of the Somali community said they were there to represent the community and assist Mr. Sharif in getting a lawyer.
Mahamad Accord told media he doesn't know Mr. Sharif and had never heard of him before Sunday, and that Mr. Sharif appears to have been largely unknown in the local Somali community.
Mr. Accord, speaking outside the court, said he has not personally spoken to any of Mr. Sharif's friends or family.
Mr. Accord said he heard within the community that Mr. Sharif's roommate recently called police because he feared for his safety, but Edmonton police spokesman Scott Pattison said there is no record of such a complaint.
Mr. Sharif's charges relate to a string of events that began when a white Malibu plowed through a barricade and into a police officer directing traffic outside a Canadian Football League game in Edmonton on Saturday night.
A man then got out of the car and repeatedly stabbed the officer before fleeing. He is then alleged to have intentionally attempted to run down pedestrians in a police chase through downtown Edmonton later that night. Four people were injured in that incident, two of whom remain in hospital, one in serious condition.
Another community spokesman in court, Edmonton's Poet Laureate Ahmed (Knowmadic) Ali, said the community doesn't want to interfere in any way with the workings of the justice system, and that more information will likely come out in the future.