A mourner visits a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS
A mourner visits a makeshift memorial a day after a van struck multiple people along a major intersection in north Toronto, Ontario, Canada, April 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Toronto — The driver accused of plowing a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder on Tuesday, but his motive remained a mystery.

The deadliest mass killing in Canada in decades, which took the lives of two South Korean citizens, has the hallmarks of other deadly vehicle assaults by Islamic State supporters, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday there was no reason to suspect any national security connection.

Suspect Alek Minassian, 25, appeared in court in Canada’s largest city, where prosecutors charged him in the death of 10 pedestrians and injury of 15 others in the lunchtime attack that saw him drive a Ryder van for about 1.6km along a crowded sidewalk.

Minassian kept his shaved head down during the hearing, speaking quietly with a defense lawyer and stated his name in a steady voice when asked to do so.

Details about the dead began to emerge on Tuesday, with a South Korean foreign ministry representative saying that two of that country’s citizens were killed and one injured in the attack. The representative spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the news media.

Trudeau called on all Canadians to stand united with Toronto as flowers and scrawled messages in multiple languages piled up at a makeshift memorial in Toronto’s north end, an ethnically diverse neighbourhood of towering office buildings, shops, restaurants and homes.

"We cannot as Canadians choose to live in fear every single day as we go about our daily business," Trudeau said outside of parliament in Ottawa. "We need to focus on doing what we can and we must to keep Canadians safe while we stay true to the freedoms and values that we all as Canadians hold dear."

The prime minister said that, while it would take time before the motives of the attacker were understood, the incident had not changed the country’s threat level or security preparations for a G-7 summit in Quebec in June.

The Canadian flag was lowered to half-staff at parliament and at Toronto city hall.

Minassian, who was not previously known to authorities, attended a high school programme where one classmate remembered him as "absolutely harmless". The suspect’s two-storey red-brick home in a suburb north of Toronto was a crime scene on Tuesday, taped off and surrounded by police vehicles. Officers went in and out of the house.

The officer who apprehended Minassian was praised for making a peaceful arrest even as the suspect shouted "Kill me" and claimed to have a gun.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation identified one of the victims as Anne Marie D’Amico, an employee of asset manager Invesco Canada. In a statement, Invesco confirmed that one of its employees had been killed, but did not name her.

The attack shook the usually peaceful streets of Toronto, a multicultural city with a population of 2.8-million. The city recorded 61 murders last year.

The drama started at lunchtime on a warm spring day, when the driver drove his vehicle into the crowds. The street was soon covered in blood, empty shoes and bodies.

Canada is still recovering from the shock of a highway crash in Saskatchewan earlier this month that killed 16 people on a bus carrying a junior hockey team.

Last October, eight people died in New York when a man driving a rented truck mowed down pedestrians and cyclists on a bike path.

The Islamic State militant group encourages its supporters to use vehicles for attacks.

Reuters

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