POLICE in London, Ontario, say that there is is evidence that the driver of a pick-up truck struck five pedestrians on Sunday in “a planned, premeditated” attack and that “the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith.”
The truck driver, Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
The dead include 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 sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Police say potential terrorism charges are being considered.
According to one witness, Veltman “got out of the car with a military helmet and armour on.” He added: “He had a big bull bar on the front of the truck and tinted windows. It looked like he was prepared to do something f—ing crazy.”
The victims were later identified by the family as Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Yumna Afzaal, 15. Nine-year-old Fayez Salman was the only surviving victim.
The Toronto Star reported that Salman Afzaal was registered to work as a physiotherapist at two care homes after obtaining his degree at the University of Karachi in 1997, according to the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario.
Madiha Salman was pursuing a PhD in environmental engineering, researching how to clean soils damaged by industrial chemicals, the Star said. In Pakistan, she’d been the only female student in the class of 174 civil engineering students, according to her graduate supervisor.
London Police Chief Steve Williams said on Monday: “We understand that this event may cause fear and anxiety in the community and in particular the Muslim community and any community targeted by hate. I want to reassure all Londoners that all of us on the call today and many others stand with you and support you.”
London Mayor Ed Holder said in a statement: “I speak on behalf of all Londoners when I say our hearts are broken. We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased. We weep for their loved ones. We pray for the recovery of the 9-year-old boy who remains in hospital. I have ordered flags outside London City Hall lowered for three days of mourning.”
— Ed Holder (@ldnontmayor) June 7, 2021
Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said: “Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia, with attacks on Muslim women in Alberta, the IMO mosque killing, and the Quebec City mosque massacre. But this loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia – this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time. But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change.”
PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “I’m horrified by the news from London, Ontario. To the loved ones of those who were terrorized by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you. We are also here for the child who remains in hospital – our hearts go out to you, and you will be in our thoughts as you recover.”
Trudeau added: “To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop.”
FEDERAL NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement: “We send our heartfelt condolences to the relatives and community of the victims in London.
“This was a hate crime that killed four members of a family and left the fifth seriously injured. Three generations among the dead were a grandmother, father, mother and teenage daughter.
“Our hearts break for the victims of this senseless attack.
“A Muslim family went out for a walk, like so many families and people have been doing in this pandemic, and this family didn’t make it back home because of hate.
“No one should ever feel unsafe in their community and neighbourhood.
“White Supremacist extremism and Far-Right radicalisation represent a real threat and we must fight against it. I spoke to members of the Muslim community—they feel unsafe and are afraid for their loved ones. It shouldn’t be this way.
“We cannot give hate any air to breathe or space to take hold.
“New Democrats will keep fighting against Islamophobia and all forms of racism and discrimination so that Canadians can feel safe in their communities.”