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Canada Martin Couture-Rouleau's shift into extremism played out on social media

Martin Couture-Rouleau

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He had once been considered a "bon vivant" who posed with buddies hoisting a beer in a swimming pool, and leaning back against the hood of a muscle truck. But over the past year Martin Couture-Rouleau veered into radical Islam, undergoing a profound transformation that drew him to the attention of police.

A portrait of Mr. Couture-Rouleau has emerged from friends and social media of a young father and small-business owner whose change into would-be jihadi alarmed his family and social circle.

On Monday, three days after changing his Facebook profile picture to depict heaven and hell, he ran down two Canadian Armed Forces personnel with his car, killing one of them.

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Mr. Couture-Rouleau's immersion in radicalization played itself out in public as he shared his new-found faith on social media.

In a recent sworn statement, Mr. Couture-Rouleau said he converted to Islam in April, 2013. Within about a month, he began to take his views to Facebook, using the name Ahmad Rouleau. His postings feature a crude mix of fundamentalist Islam and anti-American conspiracy theories.

Mr. Couture-Rouleau also set up a Twitter account, using the handle Abu Ibrahim AlCanadi, which reveals that he subscribed to a number of extremist feeds that deployed violent imagery.

He also left clues that he harboured anger against soldiers. One of his Facebook postings included a quote: "Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy."

Police say he sat in his Nissan Altima for more than two hours before he aimed the vehicle at two military personnel, one of whom was in uniform. Mr. Couture-Rouleau was carrying a knife with him at the time, before being shot dead in a confrontation with police.

The changes in his behaviour worried his family, who contacted police. Friends, who recall him as a party-loving, poker-playing "bon vivant" in high school, said he was withdrawing. His building-cleaning business reportedly collapsed; he also a had a young child but, according to news reports, was separated from the child's mother.

"He used to be a good guy, very normal, a father," Jonathan Lachapelle said. "But he started to change. We tried and tried to understand. It was extreme. … He spent a lot of time on the Internet and got brainwashed. He fell into a trap."

On Facebook, one friend referred to Mr. Couture-Rouleau as a "ticking time bomb." Another, Mathieu Girard, wrote: "I saw his father three weeks ago … He told me he didn't know what to do any more." Neighbours say he began to wear a long tunic and grew a full beard, according to reports.

Some clues have also emerged about his activity in the days prior to the attack. According to Quebec judicial records, Mr. Couture-Rouleau had a scheduled family-law court hearing last Friday. Later that day, just before 6 p.m., he changed his Facebook profile picture to a drawing showing two open doors – one leading to heaven and the other to hell.

But the morning of the attack, he saw his father, a retired bus driver, and gave no indication of what was to come. Gilles Rouleau told the TVA network that he saw his son early Monday and everything seemed normal. "He said hello, I said hello. He was off to do his shopping," he said. On Tuesday, Gilles Rouleau poked his head briefly out the door of his north-end bungalow in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. "Let me grieve," he said.

In a recent court statement, Mr. Couture-Rouleau also said he was not trying to convert anyone. "I practise my religion only for myself and I absolutely don't intend to impose my beliefs … to anyone, which would be forbidden anyway," he said.

However, a friend told Radio-Canada that Mr. Couture-Rouleau had converted him and up to four other people. The friend said Mr. Couture-Rouleau aspired to die as a martyr. "He even offered to pay us to travel to Afghanistan to wage jihad," the friend said. "We tried to talk him out of it without success … We had lost him."

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