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Extortions in Edmonton being orchestrated in India, unrelated to crimes in B.C. and Ontario: police

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Edmonton police are confident a series of extortions, arsons and shootings in Alberta's capital region are unrelated to similar crimes in B.C. and Ontario.

Investigators believe the scheme is being orchestrated by a person or network in India.

However, they think the people setting fires and committing other related crimes live in Edmonton.

Edmonton Police Service held a news conference Thursday morning to release video of a vehicle that was used in a recent drive-by shooting, which investigators think is connected to the extortion scheme that has so far exclusively targeted South Asian home builders in Edmonton.

As of Thursday, local police had connected five extortions, 15 arsons and seven "firearms offences" since October to the scheme. This includes a fire in Beaumont on Tuesday. A fire on Wednesday in The Orchards community is being investigated as possibly the 28th related incident.

Police will not say how many builders have been targeted. By their estimate, $9 million in property damage has been caused.

In the cases of extortion, victims have typically been contacted via WhatsApp and demanded to pay "a significant amount of money."

"It's our belief they're targeting home builders maybe because … the people perpetrating these crimes view them as being affluent and able to provide funds," Staff Sgt. David Paton explained.

Charges have been laid against six people, one of whom remains in police custody.

Another of the six has left Canada for India, according to CTV Edmonton's sources. Paton would not definitively confirm this, but said it was "likely."

Mayors in Brampton, Ont., and Surrey, B.C., have asked for federal help dealing with extortion threats targeting South Asian business owners in their own cities.

When asked if the crimes in Edmonton could be a copycat's work, Deputy Chief Devin Laforce replied, "I hate to make assumptions, right, but I do certainly know that when you look at Lower Mainland or Peel or some of these other regions that have been impacted outside of Edmonton and region, that everything really started, came from zero – or at least not a trend – until the middle of October, and then ramped up from there across the country."

He continued: "Whether or not it's copycat or the same, we just don't have direct information or intelligence to connect those crimes."

PUBLIC ASKED TO HELP IDENTIFY VEHICLE

None of the shootings have resulted in injuries, but police say there have been "a number of close calls."

"We haven't had a serious injury yet, but – I don't want to say it, but it's concerning for us – it could happen," Staff Sgt. Eric Stewart told CTV News Edmonton. 

The vehicle that police are asking for help identifying was used in a drive-by shooting around 1 a.m. on Jan. 10 in the northeast Cy Becker neighbourhood. 

Edmonton police say this vehicle was used in a drive-by shooting in northeast Edmonton on Jan. 10, 2024, which investigators believe is connected to a series of extortion attempts on local South Asian business owners. (Credit: Edmonton Police Service)

"Occupied home. Kids in the house," Stewart said.

Bullets were found in the house's primary bedroom.

In other shootings, he said bullets were also found in bedrooms and playrooms.

"These individuals that are going out and committing these crimes, I don't think they understand the … repercussions that could come out of this. Take an arson… They light one house on fire, but there's neighbouring homes."

According to CTV News Edmonton's sources, the house shot at on Jan. 10 belongs to a builder.

Police only said the family is not believed to be involved in criminal activity.

"There's absolutely a level of brazenness about it. And it's definitely concerning given the fact that we've actually charged people who we believe are involved in this series," Paton said.

"However, the investigation is just now really starting to take shape and really starting to get going, so we'll see where that takes us in the near future."

Some builders have hired security to watch over their projects.

Paton called the move unfortunate but appropriate.

EPS has set up a taskforce specially dedicated to the case and is assigning street officers to patrol newer neighbourhoods. The service is also encouraging any victims who have not yet come forward or who have helpful information to share it. A community townhall is being planned for the near future.

"I understand it takes courage to come forward and talk to us. I recognize the hesitancy sometimes and it's scary for them. But it takes some courage, it does take some trust in us. Sometimes people might think we're not doing anything. We have a lot of resources on this. This is, I would say, up there as one of the major priorities in our city right now," Stewart said. 

Anyone who has been threatened or who has information about the crimes is asked to call police at 780-423-4567 and reference file #23-802638 or Crime Stoppers.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Nav Sangha 

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