Manitoba

Aaron Driver: Troubled childhood, ISIS supporter, terror threat suspect

Canadian killed in anti-terror operation once told CBC News violence was not in his nature

Aaron Driver

Aaron Driver died in an altercation with police in Strathroy, Ont., on Wednesday night. RCMP believe he was planning a terrorist attack. (Facebook)

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In a calm and collected tone, Aaron Driver told CBC News last year that he didn't think Muslims belonged in the West and that their ways of life weren't compatible with Canada's.

In a nearly 90-minute phone conversation in June 2015 the then-23-year-old ISIS supporter, who was living in Winnipeg at the time, spoke about his beliefs.

"If a country goes to war with another country or another people or another community, I think that they have to be prepared for things like [the Parliament Hill shooting] to happen," Driver said.

"And when it does happen they shouldn't, they shouldn't act surprised. They had it coming for them; they deserved it."

On Wednesday, RCMP descended on the southwestern Ontario town of Strathroy after it said credible information of a potential terrorist threat was received earlier in the day. A memo circulated among National Defence personnel warning of a terrorist threat.

CBC News later learned that Driver's family was told by the RCMP that police shot Driver after he detonated a device in the back of a cab, injuring himself and the taxi driver. The family was also told Driver had another device that he was going to detonate.

At a news conference on Thursday, RCMP said Driver died in an altercation with police but it was unclear whether his death was a result of the explosive or from police fire.

A senior police official told The Canadian Press that Driver allegedly planned to carry out a suicide bombing mission in a public area.

Born to a Christian family in Saskatchewan

Before Driver caught the attention of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada's spy agency, in October 2014, he went through a difficult childhood and found Islam online in his teens.

Driver was born to a Christian family in Regina. He lived there a few years while his father farmed. Throughout his life, he also lived in New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta before moving to Manitoba in 2012.

His mother died when he was seven years old and his father later remarried and joined the Canadian Forces. Driver told CBC News he never really connected with his father and stepmother.

Driver's father spoke to CBC in March 2015 on the condition that he not be named. He said he was worried his son had become a radical extremist. 

The father said his son's behaviour significantly changed after his mother's death.

"It was like he turned out the lights and put a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door," the father said in 2015.

He was withdrawn and unwilling to talk about his grief, which his dad said turned him into a defiant teen.

The father said when Driver was 16, he left their Ontario home and "went and lived with social services at some halfway house, and they finished raising him." Four years later, Driver returned home and told his father he had cleaned up his act and converted to Islam.

Photo of 14-year-old Aaron Driver

Aaron Driver, shown at age 14, struggled after his mother died. (Facebook)

Driver said in his interview with CBC that, in fact, his father had sent him to live with his sister in London, Ont., after he was caught smoking a joint at age 14. Driver said he spent the following years getting into trouble. That changed when he was 17, after he found out his girlfriend was pregnant.

"I started reading the Bible … because, you know, I had a lot of responsibility coming my way very soon," Driver told CBC in 2015, adding it's also what drove him to Islam.

"I just decided it couldn't possibly be the word of God, so I started watching debates to find some answers. A lot of debates between Christians and atheists and Christians and Muslims, and the Muslims were always destroying them in these debates."

A turn to extremism

A few years after Driver's father moved back to Winnipeg, his son moved back in, sometime between 2011 and 2012. The father said Driver didn't seem outwardly religious, but he did fast for Ramadan and ate halal meat.

"When he was living at home, he was very secretive; a lone wolf. He didn't bring friends over, never talked about where he was going and what he was doing," Driver's father said.

The home life didn't last long; in 2015, both men told CBC their communication was sparse and strained.

"He's gone, he's lost, I can't help him," the father said.

Abdurahman's page

Driver's page contained pro-ISIS messages.

When asked how he turned from being a devout Muslim to a "radical extremist," Driver said it was a result of reading up on the Middle East online.

"Seeing some of the things that happened in Syria, it infuriates you and it breaks your heart at the same time. And I think that if you know what's going on, you have to do something. Even if you're just speaking about it," Driver told CBC News.

"Something has to be done. People need to know what's happening to Muslims, so I think maybe that's why."

Aaron Driver talks about his beliefs 1:32

Still, Driver said violence wasn't in his nature.

"I don't think there's a reason for Canadians to think that I'm a threat," he said.

CSIS disagreed.

On CSIS's radar for Twitter activity

Driver caught CSIS's attention in October 2014 when he was tweeting support for the militant group ISIS under the alias Harun Abdurahman.

His father was contacted by the intelligence agency and was told his son was considered a "radical extremist." Agents pulled out a file three centimetres thick, documenting Harun's social media activities  

"Some things made me want to throw up," the father said. "People beheaded — he's commenting on them like it's some big joke, and he's applauding their actions. There was a picture of Christian kids being assassinated, and he said they deserved it."

Aaron Driver explains why he's politically active 1:44

By June 2015, authorities were concerned that Driver would become involved in planning terrorist activity and he was arrested on a peace bond.

Driver told CBC News that while he was in custody, he was interrogated by police about his social media activities.

Eight days later, he was released on numerous bail conditions requiring him to undergo religious counselling, stay away from social media and wear an electronic monitoring device.

"I feel like I'm living in a prison now, you know, without having access to the internet," he said.

Terrorism Suspect 20160202

Aaron Driver is seen after a Feb. 2, 2016, court appearance in Winnipeg. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

In February 2016, although he wasn't facing criminal charges, Driver agreed to a peace bond to limit his activities. The peace bond meant that Driver could take off the GPS monitoring bracelet and he wouldn't have to get religious counselling, but there were many other conditions.

He had to continue living in Ontario, where he had been staying with his brother. He would also need written permission to own any cellphones, computers or mobile devices. As well, he agreed to stay off social media websites until the end of August.

Although there were many conditions in place, in Driver's earlier interview with CBC, he said the Oct. 22 attack in Ottawa was "retaliation" and the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was "justified" because of Canada's role in military activities in Syria and Iraq.

When asked if he thought people had reason to be concerned about him, he said, "I don't have a violent history. I've only been in a few fist fights in my whole life."

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