‘Blaze of destruction:’ Crown says Edmonton attack accused meant to cause chaos

EDMONTON — A man accused of stabbing a police officer and striking four pedestrians with a cube van was trying to cause as much chaos and destruction as possible, the Crown said in its closing statement Wednesday.

Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, 32, has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges, which include five counts of attempted murder, one of aggravated assault against the officer and another of dangerous driving.

“This is a case which first starts with a man preparing on Sept. 30, 2017, to go to extraordinary lengths to cause as much chaos, destruction and indiscriminate death as possible,” chief Crown prosecutor Shelley Bykewich told the jury.

She said Const. Mike Chernyk was on special duty at an Edmonton Eskimos football game that night when he was first hit by a car.

“He testified that he thought the car was going to hit him and so he turned to his left to try to get out of the way,” Bykewich said. “The next thing that Const. Chernyk remembers is flying through the air.”

Witnesses testified to seeing the car and hearing it accelerate as it approached a barricade before hitting the officer. They said they then saw the accused get out of the car, walk over to Chernyk, pull out a knife and start stabbing him.

“Little did Const. Chernyk know that the police officer’s vest would save his life,” Bykewich said.

When Sharif realized that the officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest, the accused “changed his tactic” and attacked Chernyk’s unprotected head, she said.

Sharif ran off and went to get a rented U-Haul so he could carry out the rest of his plan, Bykewich said.

“Bait the police and go out in a blaze of destruction.”

Bykewich said there was no doubt Sharif was driving the U-Haul and suggested he could have tried to escape by taking a highway out of the city.

“If his goal, as the Crown submits, was to cause as much pain and suffering … you head to the heart of the city,” she said.

Four pedestrians were hit before police were able to ram the van, which caused it to land on its side.

Sharif does not have defence counsel, but lawyer Greg Lazin was appointed by the court to assist him by clarifying information and to raise potential legal issues.

Lazin said in his closing statement that he wasn’t there to act in Sharif’s defence.

“I have been listening to the evidence just as you have,” he told the jury. “My role is to try to give another perspective on the evidence or some of it.”

There’s a difference between a physical act and the mental element of that act, he said.

“You may want to consider whether the U-Haul is simply looking for the easiest method of escape,” said Lazin. He noted there was conflicting testimony from some witnesses, but several described the vehicle as being out of control.

Some of those distinctions are important to determine whether hitting the pedestrians downtown was attempted murder, Lazin said.

“It’s called specific intent,” he said. “There has to be a specific attempt to kill.”

Bykewich said Sharif had no where to go when officers surrounded the vehicle.

“Despite the accused’s best efforts to inflict chaos and destruction and indiscriminate death on the streets of Edmonton, he failed to kill anyone,” she said. “But that in no way diminishes his intent to kill.”

Justice Paul Belzil is to give final instructions to the jury Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 23, 2019.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

Cube van attack

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