Teenage girls touched at WEM water park, man charged with 6 counts of sexual assault

A 39-year-old man faces six counts of sexual assault after several teenage girls say they were inappropriately touched Saturday evening at the West Edmonton Mall water park.

Police child protection section has taken over the investigation

The six girls say the sexual assault happened at West Edmonton Mall's water park at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday. (Facebook/West Edmonton Mall)

A 39-year-old man faces six counts of sexual assault after several teenage girls say they were inappropriately touched Saturday evening at the West Edmonton Mall World Waterpark.

Edmonton police were called to the water park at about 10:30 p.m. after receiving reports of sexual assaults.

A man "both followed and inappropriately touched at least six teen girls while swimming in the park," said police spokesperson Scott Pattison.

The girls, who Pattison said are all under 16, spoke to a lifeguard. The lifeguard called security and kept an eye on the man.

When police officers arrived security led them to the man, who was arrested at the scene.

Water park booked for semi-private event

West Edmonton Mall's water park is generally closed at 7 p.m. on Saturdays, but the mall offers bulk tickets to organizations for semi-private events.

The University of Alberta's Non-Academic Staff Association bought 1,800 out of 2,000 tickets available for the semi-private event on Feb. 4.

The association bought the tickets and sold them at cost to their members.

"It was just an event to get our members out of their houses and into the park, and to have some socialization in the middle of winter," said NASA director of operations Nancy Furlong.

"At least some of the victims" are related to members of the organization, she said.

The man arrested is not a NASA member, Furlong said, and she was not sure whether he was a family member or friend of a member.

"He could possibly be related to one of our members, he could be a family friend of one of our members, he could also be someone who was unrelated to our event," she said.

Furlong said she has contacted members who purchased tickets to notify them of the incident and asked them to co-operate with police. She said a few members have expressed concern, but understand that the incident could have happened in any public place.

"These things can happen," she said. "It's a public park."

The police child protection section has now taken over the investigation.

Police are asking for any other complainants or witnesses who were at the water park at the time to contact them.

Pattison said he believes there may be more complainants.

Soleiman Hajj Soleiman has been charged with six counts of sexual assault, and six counts of sexual interference.

Soleiman is a Syrian refugee, two sources told CBC News on Wednesday.

Mohamed Huque, executive director of the Islamic Family and Social Services Association, said his concerns proved to be well-founded Wednesday after news stories identified Soleiman as a Syrian refugee.

"I'm disappointed that his nationality and immigration status was even identified in this case," said Huque, whose agency helped 250 Syrian refugees settle in Edmonton last year.

"This is an isolated case that should not cast a negative light on the thousands of other refugees who have come to this country without incident.

"What should have been a local story will now likely attract international coverage."