Paige Parsons, Postmedia Network
, Last Updated: 8:52 PM ET
EDMONTON – A man accused of attacking a police officer and mowing down four pedestrians with a U-Haul truck made his first appearance in provincial court Tuesday in Edmonton.
Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, 30, faces five counts of attempted murder for allegedly going on a rampage late Saturday and early Sunday, first driving a car into and then stabbing Edmonton police Const. Mike Chernyk, then later intentionally running down four pedestrians with a rented U-Haul truck near Jasper Avenue.
When Sharif first appeared onscreen in provincial court via closed-circuit TV from the Edmonton Remand Centre, he was holding a telephone receiver in a hearing room, and appeared startled to find himself suddenly staring out at a judge and courtroom, quickly stepping back from the camera.
Once he collected himself, he put the telephone down and stood quietly, appearing to listen closely as a Somali interpreter translated the proceedings. The injuries to his face that police said were sustained during crashes were still visible.
Sharif is also charged with four counts of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm while trying to evade police, and one count each of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
Though Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht said Sunday that Sharif was also arrested under terrorism offences, no such charges have been filed, and RCMP said Monday the investigation is ongoing.
Police said Sunday an ISIL flag was found in Sharif’s vehicle.
Sharif is a Somali national. According to the office of federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Sharif made an asylum claim at a Canada-U.S. border crossing in 2012, and was granted it later that year. He has refugee status that allows him to stay in Canada, but is not a permanent resident. When someone is granted asylum, applying for permanent residency is a separate process. It’s not clear yet whether Sharif had started that process.
Questions remain about his path to Canada prior to 2012.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday that a man by the name of Abdullahi Hassan Sharif was transferred into their custody in July 2011 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. An immigration judge ordered he be removed to Somalia on Sept. 22, 2011, and Sharif waived his right to appeal that decision.
Two months later, on Nov. 23, Sharif was released in San Diego on an order of supervision by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations “due to a lack of likelihood of his removal in the reasonably foreseeable future.”
“Sharif failed to report to ICE ERO on his scheduled date on Jan. 24, 2012. Efforts by ERO San Diego to locate him were not successful,” said Jennifer Elzea, acting press secretary of ICE’s office of public affairs.
“Sharif had no known criminal history at the time of his encounters with ICE.”
Officials did not definitively confirm to the Journal that the man released from custody in San Diego is the man charged in the weekend attack in Edmonton. They did not explain the difference in spelling of the man’s name, but the timeline is consistent with Sharif’s arrival in Canada.
Sharif had yet to obtain legal counsel Tuesday, and court heard no disclosure had yet been made by the Crown in the case.
After speaking with Sharif briefly, defence lawyer Chady Moustarah — who happened to be in the courtroom Tuesday morning and agreed to appear for Sharif for the day — proposed the case be adjourned for one week.
Moustarah said later he “may or may not” stay with the file.
However, provincial court Judge Laura Stevens questioned whether the matter shouldn’t be adjourned for a longer period so that Sharif would have enough time to get a lawyer, and for the Crown to make disclosure to defence, rather than repeatedly having hearings “in a courtroom where nothing is going to happen.”
After a break to speak with Sharif, Moustarah said the accused agreed to a six-week adjournment. He is next scheduled to appear Nov. 14.
A few members of Edmonton’s Somali community attended the hearing. Speaking outside the courthouse, Ahmed Ali, Edmonton’s poet laureate, said he wanted to be there to provide a “unified” voice for his community.
“What I am trying to do is make sure Edmonton understands is that we are here as a community, and we condemn this behaviour,” he said.
Alberta Coalition for Human Rights organizer Mahamad Accord, also a member of the Edmonton Somali community, said although what Sharif is alleged to have done is a “terrorism,” he thinks it’s important to ensure he gets a fair trial and hopes to assist Sharif in finding a lawyer.
Accord said he has been learning more about Sharif’s background, and has heard he has a brother in Toronto, though he hasn’t spoken to that person himself.
Neither Ali nor Accord had met Sharif prior to his arrest.
With files from Brian Platt, National Post