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Somalian arrested after five hurt in Canada vehicle, stabbing attacks

Flag of Islamic State group is found inside car after suspect flees on foot
Rental truck lies on its side in Edmonton, Canada, on Sunday after high speed chase (AFP)

Canadian police arrested a Somalian man early on Sunday suspected of stabbing an officer and deliberately ramming pedestrians during a high-speed chase in a rented truck, injuring four in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced as a "terrorist attack".

A graphic surveillance video shows a Chevy Malibu hitting a police officer standing in front of a football stadium at about 8:15pm local time on Saturday, sending him flying into the air. The driver gets out of the car and appears to stab the officer multiple times before fleeing.

A flag of the Islamic State (IS) group was found inside the Malibu after the suspect ran off, said Rod Knecht, police chief of Edmonton, Alberta's provincial capital.

Local media identified the attacker as 30-year-old Abdulahi Hasan Sharif as authorities confirmed he was a Somalian national who had applied for asylum and was known to the security services following a complaint in 2015.

"There was insufficient evidence to pursue terrorism charges," Marlin Degrand, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at a news conference, adding: "The suspect was not deemed to pose a threat to Canada."

The suspect was arrested several hours later after a car chase across a busy downtown street during which he intentionally sought to hit pedestrians, police said.

"To the best of our knowledge, this was a lone wolf attack," Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson told reporters on Sunday. "There's no immediate cause for panic or concern."

US national security agencies strongly lean towards the conclusion that the suspect acted alone, though they are still reviewing the matter, a US official told Reuters.

Trudeau condemned the attack in a statement that called it "another example of the hate that we must remain ever vigilant against." Canada's government said it would keep the terror threat level at medium, where it has been since late 2014.

Victims were taken to the hospital for treatment, and the officer's condition was not critical, Knecht said at a morning news conference. Details on the other victims were not immediately available.

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Police identified the suspect when he got stopped in a U-Haul rental truck at a checkpoint and his license showed that he was the owner of the Malibu. He then sped away in the truck.

"He deliberately tried to hit pedestrians in crosswalks and alleys" at two different places, Knecht told reporters.

"Currently, it is believed four pedestrians were struck by the truck and transported to hospital with multiple injuries," it said.

Witnesses described a scene of stunned panic when the truck plowed through pedestrians.

"There were people flying and everything," Kim Andressen told the Edmonton Journal. "I'm shocked - I just see people flying."  

The chase ended when the suspect lost control of the truck, which flipped onto its side. 

The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council denounced the attack, organising a Sunday evening rally to bring together members of the community, police and government.

"These types of acts, whether terrorism or not, seek to divide communities. We have to show that's not going to happen, not in Edmonton," said group spokesman Aurangzeb Qureshi.

He said the Muslim community wanted to get ahead of any negative backlash that might come as police release more details from their investigation.

Canada has not experienced as much violence from militant attacks as the United States and Western European nations, but there have been several deadly incidents in recent years.

In January, a French-Canadian university student was charged with murder after six people were shot and killed inside a Quebec City mosque, in what Trudeau called "a terrorist attack."

In August 2016, Canadian police raided an Ontario home and killed Aaron Driver, who they said was an IS supporter preparing an attack on a Canadian city with a homemade bomb.

In 2014, Canada was stunned by two deadly attacks that police said were the work of homegrown radicals and led to tougher new anti-terrorism measures.

A gunman killed a soldier at Ottawa's national war memorial before launching an attack on the Canadian Parliament in October 2014. In the same week, a man ran down two soldiers in Quebec, killing one.

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