“You can ask (her) anything about me, and she will tell you.”
Those handful of words are the first Abdulahi Hasan Sharif has spoken to media since Sept. 30, 2017 — the day a city police constable was run down by a car and stabbed outside an Edmonton Eskimos game and four pedestrians were later struck by a swerving U-Haul truck pursued by police.
When a TV cameraman’s lens caught the image of an Islamic State-group flag inside the car that night, the events became international news.
Sharif, 31, is charged with five counts of attempted murder in addition to charges for fleeing police and possessing a knife. While police initially said they were investigating the events as “acts of terrorism,” no terrorism charges have been laid.
Sharif’s Sept. 19 call from the Calgary Remand Centre to a Postmedia reporter was short — about two minutes — and focused on confirming his relationship with a woman who has been his romantic partner since 2016.
Since the attack, only snippets of information about Sharif have come to light, through police, the courts and a small number friends, former coworkers and advocates.
Sharif’s 31-year-old partner, who met him in early 2016 and lived with him for about one year, granted two interviews to Postmedia this month on the condition her name not be used because she is concerned for her safety.
Through her, a clearer picture of Sharif has emerged, one that includes trauma from his early life in Somalia and how he eventually ended up living in Canada. Sharif described to her two cases when he was held captive by the East African Islamist group al-Shabab. She said he has a history of violent outbursts which he has difficultly controlling, though she added he never intentionally hurt her. And as a preteen, he was hospitalized and medicated for a mental disorder.
Doctors who assessed Sharif at Alberta Hospital in Edmonton following his arrest found him fit to stand trial.
Samantha Labahn, Sharif’s lawyer, advised the woman against speaking about some details of the case — specifically the flag and a previous RCMP investigation into alleged “extremist” views earlier espoused by Sharif.
In the weeks and months leading up to Sept. 30, Sharif’s partner said he was increasingly unwell. Some nights, he would wake up screaming. Somebody was after him, trying to kill him.
Other nights, while lying awake in bed, he would convince himself there was a snake in the room. He would see things, hear things that weren’t there.
“Sometimes he would tell me, ‘Tonight I’m not going to sleep in the bedroom, give me a mattress, I want to sleep in the living room,’” said Sharif’s partner.
“When I ask him why, what’s going on? He would be like, ‘So I can jump from the balcony if something happens.’”
She told him he would seriously hurt himself if he jumped; the apartment where they lived was on the third floor.
“‘I will break my bones, but (at least) I won’t be dead,’” he replied.
Terror on Edmonton streets
Sept. 30, 2017, was a crisp autumn evening in Edmonton. Around 30,000 people made their way to Commonwealth Stadium just north of downtown for the Saturday night matchup pitting the Edmonton Eskimos against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Down the road from the stadium, near 107A Avenue and 92 Street, Edmonton police Const. Mike Chernyk staffed a game-day traffic blockade.
Then, around 8:15 p.m. as the game was underway, a white Chevrolet Malibu careened through barricades, slamming into Chernyk who was sent flying through the air, tumbling to the pavement about five metres away. Within 20 seconds, as a handful of onlookers ran over to help the injured officer, the driver of the car scrambled out from behind the wheel and attacked Chernyk with a knife as bystanders fled. The two men wrestled on the ground in a 30-second life-and-death struggle before the attacker fled north on 92 Street, with Chernyk bolting up.
Police immediately launched a manhunt. Hours after the attack on Chernyk, police at a CheckStop near Wayne Gretzky Drive and 112 Avenue pulled over a man driving a rented U-Haul truck. When an officer recognized the name on his driver’s licence, the man sped away in the truck, trailed by at least a dozen police vehicles.
The chase roared into downtown Edmonton, where police said the swerving U-Haul deliberately hit four pedestrians — Kim O’Hara, Jordan Stewardson, Paul Biegel and Jack Zubick — in its race along Jasper Avenue. Within minutes, police rammed the speeding truck with a cruiser, flipping it onto its side near 100 Avenue and 106 Street. Officers smashed the front window, deployed a Taser, detonated a stun grenade and pulled the driver through the shattered windshield.
Amazingly, no one was killed. No one fired a shot.