- Police have arrested a 20-year-old suspect Nathaniel Veltman who allegedly rammed his pickup truck when the family was on a stroll in their neighborhood in the Canadian city of London.
Four members of a Pakistani Canadian family were killed on June 6 when a driver rammed his pickup truck while they were on a stroll in their neighborhood in the city of London. Police are calling it a premeditated attack that targeted the victims because they were Muslims. A nine-year-old was seriously injured in the attack and is currently in the hospital. The city of London is 200km southwest of Toronto.
Police have not yet released the victims’ names, but the London Free Press identified the victims as Syed Afzaal, 46; his wife, Madiha Salman, 44; and their 15-year-old daughter, Yumnah Afzaal. Syed Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, whose name is not yet confirmed, also died. Their 9-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.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate. It is believed these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” London Police Service Superintendent Paul Waight said during a news conference, City News reported.
On June 7, London police arrested a 20-year-old suspect, identified as Nathaniel Veltman. He has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. As per a statement from the place, here is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims.
Qazi Khalil, a friend of the family, told The Canadian Press that he last saw them on June 5. “This has totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to terms with the terms they were no longer here.”
An unidentified man, who described himself as a neighbor, told Global News that he met with the family on holidays. He said Syed Afzaal was “a family guy,” who was involved in the community, “a regular member of our mosque,” and “a really, really great father,” who “loved to walk with his family. Almost every evening, they walked.”
Nawaz Tahir, a lawyer from London who is a representative of the Muslim community told CBC Canada that the victims “were innocent human beings who were killed simply because they were Muslim. We will stand strong against hate. We will stand strong against Islamophobia. We will stand strong against terror with faith, with love, and a quest for justice. Hate will never overshadow the light of love.”
The June 6 attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since six people were killed in 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,” Holder told the media. “This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
2016 Census data reveals that London is growing increasingly diverse. One in five people was born outside of Canada, with Arabs being the area’s largest minority group, and South Asians coming in a close second. Holder said London, which has about 400,000 residents, has a large Muslim community and that Arabic is the second-most-spoken language to English in the city.
“I’m horrified by the news from London, Ontario,” tweeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “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.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also tweeted his condolences. “Hate and Islamophobia have NO place in Ontario. Justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that took place in London, Ontario yesterday,” he wrote.
Indo-Canadian lawmakers also slammed the attacks. Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defense, took to Twitter to condemn the attack. “I am devastated to learn of the four Muslim-Canadians killed in London, Ontario in a despicable Islamophobic attack. Three generations of a family gone in an instant. This pervasive hatred is far too common in our country. We need to come together to end hatred in all its forms.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), also condemned the attack. “They were murdered because of their faith,” Singh wrote on Twitter. “More than ever we must stand w/ our Muslim family, friends & neighbors against such vile hate.”
Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, son of immigrants of Indian/Pakistani Gujarati origin pledged support to the city of London and its people. “It’s the second time in a week I’ve asked you to get loud. Stand up to racism and all bigotry, including Islamophobia, wherever and whenever you see it. Don’t support politicians who sow division for their own benefit,” he wrote. In another tweet, he said: “And don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is only a Muslim tragedy. To borrow from my wise friend @doniveson, this isn’t just a Muslim tragedy. It’s not even just a family tragedy. It’s a Canadian tragedy. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.”
According to Statistics Canada, police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims “rose slightly” to 181 incidents in 2019, up from 166 incidents the previous year.
The London Muslim Mosque and other Muslim organizations are hosting a vigil on June 8 evening in the parking lot of the mosque. The event will be livestreamed on Instagram and Facebook.
Yumnah Afzaal, the 15-year-old who was killed in the June 6 attack, attended Oakridge Secondary School, according to a Reuters report. The school issued a statement saying the teen “will be deeply missed by fellow students and staff.”