What do we know about Alek Minassian, arrested after Toronto van attack?

Rob Crilly
The Toronto attack suspect was named by police last night as Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old student

The Toronto van attack suspect is a socially awkward student who graduated from college last week, his former classmates say. 

Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old student, was arrested after 10 people were killed by a van in northern Toronto on Monday evening

He was taken into custody after the rented vehicle ploughed into a crowd, leaving a further 15 people hospitalised.

Video footage showed a suspect being handcuffed after a tense stand-off with armed police. Authorities are still attempting to establish a motive for the attack. 

The Globe and Mail spoke to three of Minassian's former classmates who described him as being socially awkward, believing he may have suffered from a social or mental disability. 

Minassian lives in nearby Richmond Hill and has been a student at Seneca College, according to his LinkedIn page. One classmate said he graduated from the college only last week. 

Another student, who worked with Minassian on a school project in 2015, expressed his surprise that the suspect was even capable of hiring and driving a vehicle, adding he didn’t know how a steering wheel worked when he knew him. 

Other classmates suggested he had never exhibited any indication of possessing extremist views or violent tendencies and was described by one couple as being “friendly”.  

One student said Minassian did not interact particularly well with other students, but would not describe him as a loner. 

A damaged van that struck multiple people in Toronto Credit: Reuters

Ari Bluff, who went to secondary school with Minassian, recalled that “he wasn’t overly social” when she knew him. 

“I'm not sure if he had any very, very close friends, at least publicly,” he told CBC News. “I never saw him with a group of friends, generally. But whenever we would see him in the hallways, we'd always speak to him or say hi to him or whatnot.

“I remember seeing him probably just walking down the halls, usually by himself, or in the cafeteria by himself.” 

Minassian was also regarded as an IT expert with comprehensive knowledge of computers chips, according to his former classmates.  His name is listed as a developer on a number of apps, including one that found parking spots in the Toronto area.

He is believed to have attended the college for seven years while also working in several software development jobs. Officers were searching his home on Monday night.

Mark Saunders, Toronto police chief, said the suspect had not been known to police previously.

"Based on what we have there's nothing that has it to compromise the national security at this time," he told a news briefing after being asked if there was any like to international terrorism.

Investigators are still working to establish a motive for the van rampage, Mr Saunders declined to speculate but said the driver’s actions “definitely looked deliberate”. 

“We are looking very strongly to what the exact motivation was for this particular incident to take place,” he told a press conference. “At the end of the day, we will have a fulsome answer, and we will have a fulsome account as to what the conclusion of this is.” 

Witness Ali Shaker, who was driving near the van at the time, told Canadian broadcast outlet CP24 that the driver appeared to be moving deliberately through the crowd.

“He just went on the sidewalk,” he said. “He just started hitting everybody, man. He hit every single person on the sidewalk. Anybody in his way he would hit.”

Witness Peter Kang told CTV News that the driver did not seem to make any effort to stop.

“If it was an accident he would have stopped. But the person just went through the sidewalk. He could have stopped.”

Police in Toronto during the aftermath Credit: Zumapress

NBC news cited American and Canadian law enforcement officials saying that mental illness was the leading theory for a motive, rather than terrorism.

They also said the suspect had been involved in an online discussion about Elliot Rodger, the man accused of carrying out a 2014 shooting rampage, near Santa Barbara, California, that killed six people.

A Facebook post by a man with the same name and the same photo as the one that appears on the LinkedIn profile refers to the "Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger".

In a video posted before the attack, Rodger had ranted about women turning down his advances, turning him into an "incel" - an abbreviation for "involuntarily celibate".

Minassian is due to appear in court at 10am local time on Tuesday. 

Related Video: Van Plows into Pedestrians in Toronto

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