June 08, 2021
Ms Nafisa Azima laying flowers at the fatal crime scene in London, Ontario in Canada on June 7, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
ONTARIO – Four members of a Canadian Muslim family who were killed on Sunday (June 6) when a pickup truck jumped the kerb and ran them over were targeted in an anti-Islamic hate crime, Canadian police said on Monday.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London, Ontario, police department told reporters.
“It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” Mr Waight said.
Police arrested the suspected attacker, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, on Sunday. His truck swerved off the road, over the kerb, struck the family and then drove off at high speed, police said, citing witnesses.
Eyewitness Paige Martin told reporters that a black truck blasted past her and ran a red light as she was walking, and then she came upon the scene and saw chaos.
“It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see,” she said.
Veltman, described as a resident from the London city 200km south-west of Toronto, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He is due back in court on Thursday after being remanded to custody on Monday.
Veltman does not have a criminal record, and is not known to be a member of a hate group, police said. He was arrested in a mall carpark without incident while wearing a body-armour-type vest, police said. There is no evidence he had any accomplices.
Police have not yet released the victims’ names, but the London Free Press said that among the dead were Mr Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madam Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter, Yumnah Afzaal. Mr Syed’s 74-year-old mother, whose name is not yet confirmed, also died. Their nine-year-old son, Faez Afzaal, is in the hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The family immigrated from Pakistan about 14 years ago, according to media reports.
Witness Paige Martin told reporters a black truck blasted past her and ran a red light as she was walking, and then she came upon the scene and saw “chaos”: “It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see.”
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017.
London Mayor Ed Holder said it was the worst mass murder his city had ever seen.
“We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased,” Mr Holder told reporters. “This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter that he was horrified by the news, adding that “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop”.
Mr Waight said police in London were consulting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and prosecutors about potentially filing terrorism charges.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such,” said Mr Mustafa Farooq, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Mayor Holder added: “There are some very, very scared people out there.”
London, which has about 400,000 residents, has a large Muslim community and Mr Holder said Arabic is the second-most-spoken language to English in the city.
The teenage girl who was killed “will be deeply missed by fellow students and staff at Oakridge Secondary School”, according to a school statement.
One man who described himself as a neighbour in an interview with Global News, said he met with the family on holidays.
“He was a family guy, very much involved in the community, a regular member of our mosque, a really, really great father,” the neighbour, who was not identified, said of Mr Syed. “He loved to walk with his family. Almost every evening, they walked.”
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack, saying it indicated “growing Islamophobia” in Western countries.
“Islamophobia needs to be countered holistically by the international community,” Mr Khan said on Twitter.