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Five pedestrians run down targeted as Muslims

Darpan News Desk The Canadian Press, 07 Jun, 2021 01:50 PM
  • Five pedestrians run down targeted as Muslims

A family of five Muslims out for an evening early summer stroll were mowed down by a driver in an "act of mass murder," the mayor of London, Ont., said on Monday.

The horrific incident on Sunday evening left four of them dead and a boy with serious injuries, police said.

"Words fail on a day as dark as this but words matter," Mayor Ed Holder said. "This was an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred."

A 20-year-old city man was arrested in the parking lot of a mall seven kilometres away. He now faces four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder, police said.

Police Chief Steve Williams said relatives had asked no names be released but identified the four victims as a 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl. A nine-year-old boy was in hospital in serious condition.

"We believe that this was an intentional act and that the victims of this horrific incident were targeted … because of their Islamic faith," Williams said. "All of the victims in this matter are members of the same family."

Det. Supt. Paul Waight said the family was waiting to cross the road at an intersection on a dry clear day in the city's northwest end when a black pickup mounted the curb, struck them, then sped off.

Police identified the accused as Nathaniel Veltman.

One woman who witnessed the aftermath of the deadly crash said she couldn't stop thinking about the victims. Paige Martin said she was stopped at a red light around 8:30 p.m. when the large, pickup flew past her. She said her car shook from the force.

“I was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver,” Martin said.

Minutes later, she came upon a gruesome scene at an intersection near her home: First responders in full sprint, a police officer performing chest compressions on one person and three others down on the ground.

A few dozen people were on the sidewalk, and several drivers got out of their cars to help.

“I can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,” Martin said.

From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene, watching an official drape a sheet over a body at about midnight.

Police said one woman died at the scene. The second woman, the man and the teen died in hospital. The child was expected to survive. Autopsies were scheduled for Tuesday.

Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the three generations of victims comprised the grandmother, father, mother and teenage daughter. The family had immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago and were dedicated, decent and generous members of the London Muslim Mosque, he said.

“They were just out for their walk that they would go out for everyday,” Khan said through tears near the site of the crash. “I just wanted to see.”

Qazi Khalil said he saw the family last Thursday when they were out for their nightly walk. The families lived close to each other and would get together on holidays, he said.

“This has totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to the terms they were no longer here.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it was beyond horrified, saying Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia.

"This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such,” said council head Mustafa Farooq. "We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including considering terrorist charges."

Williams acknowledged the tragedy might stoke fear and anxiety, especially among Muslims or others targeted by hate.

"There is no tolerance in this community for individuals who, motivated by hate, target others with violence," Williams said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed grief over the incident.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau also expressed his shock over the senseless violence.

About a dozen police officers searched the crash scene on Monday as they combed the area looking for evidence.

Blue markers on the ground dotted the intersection and officers were performing line searches for several hundred metres in the field next to the sidewalk.

Police were asking anyone with possible information about the incident to contact them.

Holder said flags would be lowered for three days.

Pandemic restrictions were eased Tuesday to allow mourners to attend a vigil for a Muslim family cut down as they took their regular evening stroll in what many have characterized as an act of terrorism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford were among dignitaries who joined the grief-stricken members of the community at the main mosque in the southwestern Ontario city for the commemoration.

"We're gathering here with our leaders, with our community, to mourn together because this is a horrific attack,” said Omar Khamissa, with the National Council for Canadian Muslims. "Our souls are numb."

Three generations of the family were killed when a man driving a black Dodge Ram deliberately smashed into them on a sidewalk as they waited to cross an intersection in the northwest end of London, police said.

Relatives identified the victims as Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, daughter Yumna Salman, 15, and her 74-year-old grandmother. The couple's nine-year-old boy, Fayez, remained in hospital with serious injuries.

Investigators said the driver targeted the victims because of their Muslim faith.

"Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence," Trudeau told the House of Commons. "This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities."

London's mayor called it an act of "mass murder."

According to the London Muslim Mosque 10,000 people attended the vigil. The organization shared an aerial view of the vigil showing thousands of people lining up the streets.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by London Muslim Mosque (@londonmuslimmosque)

Two online fundraisers for the surviving boy had taken in more than $1 million as of Tuesday afternoon.

A fundraising web page said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast, while his "brilliant'' wife was working on her PhD in civil engineering at Western University. Their daughter was finishing Grade 9, while her grandmother was a "pillar'' of the family, the page said.

Police arrested Nathaniel (Nate) Veltman, 20, of London, on Sunday at a mall about seven kilometres from the carnage shortly after the driver sped off from the scene. He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

Police, who were at his downtown apartment on Tuesday, said he was wearing what appeared to be body armour but did not elaborate.

Veltman was a part-time worker at Gray Ridge Eggs Inc. in Strathroy, Ont., company CEO William Gray said on Tuesday in a statement expressing shock and sorrow at the "hateful attack."

At the London Muslim Mosque the family attended, a growing memorial of flowers lay on the steps of the main entrance. A police vehicle sat at the back of the parking lot keeping watch.

Sana Yasir, a friend of the family who lives nearby, said she had been in touch with Salman Afzaal's brother and sister-in-law. Yasir released a statement on their behalf:

"We need to understand that the destruction of a family in the brutal and horrific manner like this is something we must all stand against," the statement said.

Yasir said the family was well known in the local Pakistani-Muslim community.

"They were the most loving, caring and genuine family and would always greet you with a smile," she said.

Khamissa stressed the deep roots of the Muslim community in the city of 404,000 people. The mosque, he said, was the second oldest in Canada.

"This London community here has helped built the city," he said. "This is their home. For the first time, those who wear the scarf, who have a beard, feel like it's not."

Mike Phillips, principal of Oakridge Secondary School, where Yumna Salman was an honour roll student, said the school community was in mourning. He described her as smart, dedicated and always ready to be helpful.

"One teacher described her as being creative and confident, and having a bright and sparkling personality arriving each day to class with a smile," Phillips said. "She’ll be deeply missed by her classmates and teachers."

Mosque Imam Aarij Anwer said the family was part of the "fabric of the congregation."

"When we have the clearance, we will share the stories of this family, we will honor their legacy, we will cherish them," he said.

The mosque, he said, was providing access to grief counselling. “There's a natural fear,” he said. “But we also say, ‘Don’t let this terrorize you’. This is a deep scar, it will take time to heal.”

Dozens of people went to the attack scene to pay tribute. They cried, hugged and placed flowers around a light pole and nearby tree, a metre from where the speeding pickup truck hopped the curb.

Rauf Ahmad and three of his friends watched the growing tribute. All said they had relatives killed in Pakistan over their Muslim faith.

"I didn’t think there was racism in Canada and I felt very safe when I came here two years ago, but I do not feel safe now," Ahmad said. “Humanity is first, we should not care about whether someone is a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian.”

London Mayor Ed Holder said he expected a "massive" turnout at the vigil given the outpouring of support.

"The fact that this has garnered such broad attention will be very impactful for London," Holder said.

Politicians abroad also denounced the attack, some calling it an act of terror. Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan, said it revealed the "growing Islamophobia in Western countries."

The group Independent Jewish Voices Stands expressed solidarity with Canadian Muslims, calling the attack "beyond horrific."

Ford similarly called the "horrific and deliberate attack" an act of terrorism that had left the province in mourning. Ford said all government events had been cancelled for the day.

_ With files from Colin Perkel, Denise Paglinawan and Liam Casey

Terrorism in Canada: Timeline of plots and attacks

Four members of a Muslim family are dead and one child is in hospital after a hit-and-run in London, Ont. Sunday, in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an act of terrorism.

Police said 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman intentionally drove a truck into the family who was out for a walk on Sunday evening and he targeted them because of their faith. Veltman now faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He did not know the victims.

Police have not released the names of the victims, but a statement released by the family identifies them as Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and Afzaal's 74-year-old mother.

The couple's nine-year-old son Fayez was seriously injured but is expected to survive.

Through the years, Canada has seen terrorism cases and allegations, as well as cases in which politicians or legislatures were attacked or such assaults were allegedly plotted.

June 6, 2021: The driver of a pickup truck struck three adults and two children, all members of the same Muslim family, in London, Ont. One person died at the scene and three others died in hospital, while a nine-year-old boy was seriously injured. Police said the family was targeted because of their faith and London Mayor Ed Holder called the attack "an act of mass murder."

April 23, 2018: Then-25-year-old Alek Minassian deliberately drove a rental van down the sidewalk of Yonge Street in Toronto. He killed 10 people that day, including eight women, and injured 16 others, many of them catastrophically. In 2021, a judge found Minassian guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He argued he should not be held criminally responsible for his actions due to his autism spectrum disorder, but the judge disagreed.

Jan. 29, 2017: Six people were killed and eight were injured in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Quebec premier Philippe Couillard called it a terrorist attack. Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty in March 2018 to six counts of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder. In February 2019, Bissonnette was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 40 years. That sentence was reduced to 25 years in 2020 due to a Quebec Court of Appeal decision. The Supreme Court of Canada is set to review the sentencing.

Aug. 10, 2016: Police shoot and kill terror suspect Aaron Driver in Strathroy, Ont., after he made a video that suggested he was planning to detonate a homemade bomb in a Canadian urban centre during morning or afternoon rush hour. Driver detonated an explosive device in a taxi cab before police killed him.

Oct. 22, 2014: Parliament Hill security and police shoot and kill Michael Zehaf-Bibeau after he killed Canadian soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial and then stormed the Parliament Buildings.

Oct. 20, 2014: Quebec police shoot and kill Martin Couture-Rouleau after he threatens a female officer with a knife. Couture-Rouleau was wanted for running down warrant officer Patrice Vincent and another soldier in Saint Jean sur Richelieu. Vincent died of his injuries.

2013: Two people were arrested and charged with conspiring to blow up the British Columbia legislative building in the midst of Canada Day festivities. In 2018, John Nuttall and Amanda Korody were cleared of terror charges due to RCMP entrapment. Their lawyer says the pair are allowed to live freely after prosecutors dropped a bid to restrict their movements.

2013: Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser were charged in connection with a plot — allegedly guided by al-Qaida in Iran — to attack a Via Rail/Amtrak passenger train that runs between Toronto and New York City. Both were found guilty in 2015 of terror-related charges. They appealed their convictions and in 2019 the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a fresh trial for the men on grounds the jury was chosen incorrectly. However, the Crown successfully argued in a Supreme Court hearing last fall the convictions should not be overturned on the basis of an error in the jury-selection process that did not deny the men fair trial rights.

2010: Police made three arrests in an alleged plot to commit acts of terror on Canadian soil. Misbahuddin Ahmed of Ottawa was convicted of two terrorism-related offences in July 2014. Hiva Mohammad Alizadeh pleaded guilty in September to possessing explosives with an intent to do harm and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. The third man arrested was acquitted of conspiring to facilitate terrorism.

2009: Software engineer Momin Khawaja, the first person charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act, was convicted for his role in a plot to plant fertilizer bombs in the United Kingdom. Khawaja, who is serving a life sentence, has denied the charges.

2006: Police in Toronto arrested a large group of young men who later became known as the Toronto 18. They are accused of plotting to bomb targets including the Toronto Stock Exchange, CSIS headquarters and a military base. Eleven were ultimately convicted of terrorist offences. In January 2010, one of the men, Zakaria Amara of Mississauga, Ont., was sentenced to life in prison. Fellow suspect Saad Gaya from Oakville, Ont., was sentenced to 12 years.

1995: Quebec sovereignty supporter Andre Dallaire entered the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive while Jean Chrétien and his wife were sleeping. He confronted Aline Chretien at the bedroom door. She summoned Mounties while the prime minister snatched up an Inuit sculpture in case the intruder crashed the door. Dallaire was found guilty of attempted murder but was found not be criminally responsible because of his mental state.

1985: An Air India flight that departed from the Vancouver airport exploded in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 people on board. Two Canadians were tried for the bombing but were ultimately acquitted of mass murder. Only one conviction has been obtained in the case. Inderjit Singh Reyat, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case, was convicted of perjury in 2010.

1984: Three people were killed when Canadian Army supply clerk Denis Lortie opened fire inside the National Assembly in Quebec City in a bid to "destroy" Premier René Lévesque. Lortie was convicted of first-degree murder after his first trial in 1985 but a new trial was ordered because of errors by the judge. In 1987, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of second-degree murder, allowing him to be eligible for parole after 10 years.

1970: The October Crisis begins as the Front de Liberation du Quebec kidnaps British diplomat James Cross and, later, Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invokes the War Measures Act, which allows the government to temporarily suspend civil liberties. Cross is released 60 days later but Laporte is found dead.

1966: Paul Joseph Chartier, an unemployed Toronto security guard with emotional problems, blew himself up with a bomb in a washroom down the hall from the public gallery of the House of Commons. His notes suggested he planned to throw his bomb onto the floor of the chamber.

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