Brett Gundlock / AP
TORONTO – A driver smashed a van into a family of five, killing four and seriously injuring the other in a deliberate attack that targeted the victims for being Muslim, Canadian police said Monday .
Authorities said a young man was arrested in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center after Sunday night’s incident in the Ontario city of London. Police said a black van climbed onto a sidewalk and struck victims at an intersection.
“It was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims,” Mayor Ed Holder said. “It was rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
The extended family released a statement identifying the deceased as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their 15-year-old daughter Yumna; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name has not been released. The hospitalized boy was identified as Fayez.
“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzal family knows the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” the statement said. “They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were the best students in their school and were strongly linked to their spiritual identity.”
A fundraising webpage reported that the father was a physiotherapist and keen cricketer and his wife was working on a doctorate in civil engineering at Western University in London. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade and the grandmother was a “pillar” of the family, the page said.
The family said in their statement that the public must stand up against hatred and Islamophobia.
“This young man who committed this act of terror was influenced by a group he associated with, and the rest of the community must take a strong stand against it, from the highest levels of our government to every member of the community. community, ”the statement said.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was in custody facing four counts of first degree murder. Police said Veltman, a London resident, did not know the victims.
Detective Superintendent Paul Waight said police had not determined whether the suspect was a member of a specific hate group. He said London police were working with federal police and prosecutors to see possible terrorism charges. He declined to detail the evidence indicating a possible hate crime, but said the attack was planned.
A dozen police officers combed the area around the crash site for evidence on Monday. Blue markers on the ground dotted the intersection.
“We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith,” Police Chief Stephen Williams said. “… There is no tolerance in this community which is motivated by hatred and targets others with violence.”
Canada is generally welcoming to immigrants and all religions, but in 2017, a French Canadian known for his far-right nationalist views engaged in a shootout at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.
A woman who witnessed the aftermath of the fatal crash said she couldn’t help but think of the victims. Paige Martin said she was pulled over at a red light around 8:30 p.m. when a large pickup drove past her. She said her car shook from the force.
“I was rocked, thinking it was an erratic pilot,” Martin said.
Minutes later, she said, she came across a gruesome and chaotic scene at an intersection near her home, with first responders running to help, a police officer performing chest compressions on one person and three other people. lying on the ground. A few dozen people stood on the sidewalk and several drivers got out of their cars to help them.
“I can’t get the sound of screaming out of my head,” Martin said.
From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene and watched an official drape a sheet over a body around midnight. “My heart is so broken for them,” she said.
Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the three generations among the dead were a grandmother, father, mother and teenage daughter. The family immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago and were dedicated, decent and generous members of the Muslim mosque in London, he said.
“They were just out for their walk which they would take every day,” Khan said tearfully near the crash site. “I just wanted to see.”
Qazi Khalil said he saw the family on Thursday as they went out for their nighttime walk. Families lived close to each other and got together on vacation, he said.
“It totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to terms that they were no longer there.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims has stated that Muslims in Canada are all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia. “This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil and must be treated as such,” said Chairman of the Board, Mustafa Farooq.
Nawaz Tahir, London lawyer and leader of the Muslim community, said: “We must confront and eliminate Islamophobia and Islamic violence – not tomorrow, today, for the sake of our children, our families, our communities. .
The mayor said the flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 residents.
“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, please know that we are with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hatred is insidious and despicable – and it must stop, ”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted.