'The idea was to keep him talking': Mosque explains why it didn't turn away ISIS ally Aaron Driver

When Aaron Driver, and his radical ideas, came to the attention of senior officials at the London Muslim Mosque in southern Ontario, they decided to keep him as a member of the congregation. The idea, a spokesman says, was to keep Driver talking so they could casually teach him that true Islam is about peace.

Spokesman says leaders tried to gently teach radicalized young man that true Islam is about peace

Aaron Driver seen after a Feb. 2, 2016, court appearance in Winnipeg. Driver, an ISIS supporter who died in a confrontation with police Wednesday, attended the London Muslim Mosque in southern Ontario. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

When Aaron Driver, and his radical ideas, came to the attention of senior officials at the London Muslim Mosque, they decided to keep him as a member of the congregation.

He arrived there, unannounced, about a year ago, and members expressed concerns when they noticed a GPS bracelet attached to his ankle.

Calls were made to the police, who informed the mosque that Driver, an ISIS sympathizer, was living in nearby Strathroy, Ont., on a peace bond, and that he had posted radical views online.

"Based on that knowledge we made a decision to not turn him away from the mosque," said spokesman Nawaz Tahir.

"We thought that if we did that, the only logical place that he would go back to is the very resources and online materials that got him onto the wrong path to begin with."
London Muslim Mosque spokesman Nawaz Tahir said instead of expelling Aaron Driver for his extremist views, leaders tried to gently teach him about the peaceful aspects of Islam. (CBC)

Driver was killed outside a home in Strathroy on Wednesday during a confrontation with police. Officers opened fire after Driver detonated an improvised explosive device in the backseat of a taxi, police said.

Authorities revealed Driver had made a "martyrdom video" and was planning an attack within 72 hours in an urban centre during rush hour. An FBI tip had alerted them to the "imminent threat," eventually leading police to Strathroy, where Driver was living with his sister.
The aftermath of an explosion inside of a taxi that Aaron Driver entered after leaving a house in Strathroy, Ont. RCMP confronted Driver as he fled the house into the backseat of a waiting taxi, where an improvised explosive device suddenly detonated, injuring the cab driver. (RCMP/Canadian Press)

At the mosque, officials believed that instead of expelling him, a better approach would be to try to engage the young man.

"There was some thought that him coming to the mosque might be an opening that we can try and work on," Tahir said.

'Keep him talking'

Senior members of the congregation who have a good understanding of the peaceful aspects of Islam were put in touch with Driver.

Nothing formal, just casual dialogue, said Tahir. They feared anything more might push him away. He said they tried to get him involved in the community, to see the kinds of work the mosque was involved in.

"For the most part, he was relatively quiet, introverted," Tahir said. "There were obviously exchanges, he had some very strong political views."

Driver was angry about Western foreign policy and the treatment of Muslims around the world, Tahir said, and he was convinced ISIS was helping the situation.

"The idea was not to try and debate with him because at the end of the day, we thought that would push him away if we engage directly in saying, 'You're wrong about this,'" he said.

"The idea was to keep him talking to try and casually explain to him that true Islam is about peace, it's about loving your neighbour, about not being judgmental."

Tahir said police were regularly updated about their engagement with Driver.

Sadness, disappointment and anger

Despite Driver's views, Tahir said nothing suggested "he was aggressive, or was planning an attack or … thinking of planning an attack."

"It was all very political, theoretical, similar to his web postings."

When Tahir heard about Driver's fate, he said he felt sadness, disappointment and anger.

"Sadness obviously, that you got a young man who went down a wrong path and is no longer with us. Disappointment and anger that he wanted to carry out an attack against innocent people."

At least one London family from the mosque had engaged with Driver, but those efforts, it seems, may have led police to investigate their home.

The family, according to neighbour Jenny Ruiz, had recently needed some help with yard work and Driver volunteered to help.

The family said Driver was really nice, really quiet and that they had made him dinner, Ruiz said.
A spokesman for the mosque Driver attended in London, Ont., says he was "relatively quiet, introverted," with angry views about the treatment of Muslims around the world. (Facebook)

But after Driver's death Wednesday night, Ruiz said police descended on the family's home, cordoned off the area and pointed a spotlight on the house.

Two women, a mother and her daughter, were told to come out, walk backwards with their hands up, and taken away in a car, said Ruiz, who lives across the street.

She said she believed the women were just taken up the street and interviewed by police and later released.

Ruiz said she spoke with the women afterward. They said police had asked them repeatedly if they knew Driver, but they said they didn't because they only knew him by his Muslim name.

Ruiz said the women never really understood what was going on until they returned home and she showed them a picture of Driver.

"It turned out they had nothing to do with it," Ruiz said.

No warning

A woman at the house declined to speak with CBC. An RCMP spokesman said they had no other information about the London home and would not comment on ongoing investigations.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Strathroy, officials were asked why the residents of the town weren't made aware of Driver's presence, given that the conditions of his peace bond were public.

RCMP Supt. Jamie Jagoe said there were never any reports of suspicious behaviour on Driver's part.

"There is nothing within legislation that would allow us to issue a public warning," Jagoe said. "He had every right to live in this community and by all accounts he lived in this community and had a quiet lifestyle."

'There is nothing in legislation that would allow us to issue a public warning, he had every right to live in this community,' RCMP says 2:58

About the Author

Mark Gollom

Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.