There’s no evidence to support a claim from the Islamic State terror group that it was behind a deadly shooting spree in Toronto, the city’s police chief said Wednesday as the federal government reiterated that there was no national security connection to the gunman.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said his force was investigating Sunday’s violence from every angle and had found nothing to indicate a connection to the group commonly known as ISIL.
A post on one of the group’s social media channels claimed one of its “soldiers” wielded the gun that killed two and injured 13 on a busy stretch of Danforth Avenue. ISIL claimed the attack was in response to its calls to target citizens of the U.S-led coalition battling it. The claim was repeated by a security member of the group speaking to its Amaq news agency.
Saunders, however, issued a sharp denial.
“At this stage, we have no evidence to support these claims,” he said in a statement, adding that Toronto police would continue to “explore every investigative avenue” in its probe, which includes examining how the shooter obtained a gun.
A spokeswoman for federal public safety minister Ralph Goodale echoed Saunders’ assertions, saying currently “there is no national security nexus” to the man behind the attack.
Faisal Hussain, 29, who died of a gunshot wound shortly after the shooting, was also not on any federal watchlists associated with national security, Goodale has said.
Hussain’s parents have said their son had severe mental health issues all his life and had not responded to treatment. Neighbours have said Hussain had a supportive family and did not show outward signs of mental illness.
Saunders said police will be interviewing those who knew Hussain, reviewing his online activity and “looking into his experiences with mental health.”
Shortly after Saunders’ statement was issued, Toronto Mayor John Tory urged residents to have confidence in what police are saying.
“People should rely on the information that is going to be forthcoming over time, including today, from the Toronto Police Service,” he said. “They’re the people who are in possession of the information that would lead to any conclusions.”
Ten-year-old Julianna Kozis of Markham, Ont., and 18-year-old Reese Fallon of Toronto were killed in the shooting.
The Markham Synchro Club issued a statement saying Julianna had been one of the club’s artistic swimmers.
“Julianna was a beautiful, aspiring athlete who was in her third year in our sport,” said the statement, which urged people to join them in sending thoughts and prayers to her family. “This is a traumatic event for many of us and we are committed to working through this in a thoughtful and responsive manner.”
Fallon, who recently graduated from a nearby high school, was preparing to study nursing at McMaster University starting in the fall. She was described by family as smart and passionate and also held a job at an east-end Loblaw’s store, where she worked alongside her friend Samantha Price, the company said. Friends have said that Price was among those injured in the shooting.
Loblaw’s has also confirmed that Hussain worked for the company as a part-time employee.
The violence in Greektown added urgency to a series of gun control motions that came before Toronto City Council on Tuesday. The Danforth shooting marked the latest in a spike of gun-related deaths in the city and prompted Tory to question why anyone in the city needed to own a gun at all.
Councillors approved a motion to urge the federal government to forbid the sale of handguns in the city and for the province to outlaw the sale of handgun ammunition in Toronto. Council also agreed to implement more stringent measures to prevent someone who has suffered from mental illness or been involved in domestic violence from obtaining a gun.
Story by Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press