Ayanle Hassan Ali, the 27-year-old suspect in a stabbing attack at a Canadian Forces recruiting facility was once allowed to work in restricted areas at Toronto's Pearson Airport, officials say.

Greater Toronto Airport Authority spokesperson Siobhan Desroches said the 27-year-old man “worked for a third-party tenant” of the airport and carried a restricted area identification card, allowing him to enter secure areas of the facility between December 2008 and March 2009.

In order to get a restricted access identification card, Ali would have had to obtain transportation security clearance.

Transport Canada refused to comment on the case, but the agency described its background checks as “rigorous.”

On Monday afternoon, police arrested a suspect after Canadian Forces members were attacked at a government building on Yonge Street in Willowdale.

Police have said a man wielding a knife yelled that Allah told him to carry out the attack.

Officials have said the investigation is in its early stages and they are still trying to determine a possible motive in the attack.

Police sources told CTV’s Tamara Cherry that a joint-forces anti-terrorism squad is looking into the detail.

It is unclear if or how Ali’s work at the airport will factor into the investigation.

On Wednesday, police searched the home on Albion Road, near Weston Road, where the suspect lives with his mother and sister.

Neighbours and friends told CP24 that the suspect accused of carrying out the slashing attack does not square with the man they know.

“I couldn’t believe it. He’s a nice guy, he’s quiet, he’s not a person who makes trouble. But I don’t know what happened,” said neighbor Nadifo Mahamud.

The suspect, identified by police Tuesday, is a Montreal-born man who has been living in Toronto for about five years.

Mahamud said she has known Ali for a number of years.

“When you know the person is a good person, you can’t believe what happened,” she said.

Another neighbour, Grade 12 student Huda Muddei, described Ali as humble and “an honorable person, someone you would never expect this to happen to.”

“Seeing this on the news really breaks my heart because I know he is a person who will go out of his way for people,” Muddei said. “He will take the garbage from you knowing you can take it yourself. He goes to the mosque. He’ll do anything and everything he can for the people that he cares about.”

Muddei said she can’t believe that the person being described is the same person she knows.

“He’s a brother, he has a family. He has a community. He has me 100 per cent behind him. And I know that this is completely out of his character. This isn’t who he is,” she said.

Citing a cousin, the Toronto Star reported Wednesday that Ali began to show signs of dramatic change starting in 2011. The cousin, Mariam Adam, told the Star that Ali lived with her in Edmonton after putting his studies on hold and said in 2011 he became less social and started to talk about conspiracy theories, class struggle, cults and religion.

The University of Calgary confirmed Wednesday that Ali was registered as an open studies student in the winter and summer terms of 2009, but was not enrolled in any specific program.

While police are still investigating what motivated the attack, Muslim groups have been quick to respond to reports that Muslim terminology was associated with the act.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Council of Imams released a statement saying the group is “deeply shocked” by news of the attack.

“It is very sad to know that the individual who attacked our on-duty soldiers uttered the word ‘Allah’ according to some media sources, which indicates that he may belong to the Muslim faith,” Dr. Mohammad Iqbal AlNadvi, the chairman of the council, said.

“The Canadian Council of Imams strongly denounces this criminal act and there is nothing that justifies such insanity.”

Ali has been remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

With a report from CTV Toronto’s Tamara Cherry