Muslim group calls for domestic terrorism charges in London hit-and-run
National Council of Canadian Muslims says that police need to “send a clear message that unimaginable acts of violence motivated by Islamophobia will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law"
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is calling on police to lay terrorism-related charges against a 20-year-old suspect involved in a hit and run that killed four members of a Pakistani-Muslim family in London, Ontario on Sunday.
NCCM spokesperson Nadia Hasan says the incident has all the hallmarks of a case of domestic terrorism.
“We believe that a terrorism charge is important to consider here because this attack fits the hallmarks of what is defined as terrorism – in that sense, it is a matter of simply calling it what it is.”
Four members of the Afzaal family were rundown by a pickup truck at around 8:40 pm while out on a walk. A fifth member of the family, a 9-year-old boy, is recovering in hospital in critical condition. Nathaniel Veltman, the 20-year-old suspect in the case, has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
Hasan says it’s critical that police “send a clear message to Canadians, including the Canadian-Muslim community, that unimaginable acts of violence like this that are motivated by Islamophobia and that hate will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
London police chief Steve Williams said in a prepared statement read at a press conference on Monday that the Afzaal family was “targeted because of their Islamic faith” and that the attack was “planned and premeditated.”
The force has reportedly contacted the RCMP about the possibility of laying terrorism-related charges in the case. Since 2020, the federal government has included far-right groups in its list of terrorist organizations in the face of rising incidents of violence involving extremist groups. Canada’s national security apparatus has also moved to include “politically motivated” and “ideologically motivated” acts of violence in its definition of terrorism. But London police are so far treating Sunday’s incident as a hate-motivated crime.
On Tuesday, London police were reportedly executing a search warrant on Veltman’s apartment. But Constable Sandasha Bough, a media relations officer for London police, tells NOW that she is not in a position to comment further on the particulars of the case. She says any further information, including on additional charges, will be made public via press release.
What is known so far:
• Veltman was known to London police, but police say that was only in relation to minor offences. A neighbour of the apartment building where Veltman lived has been quoted in various media reports saying that she has had to call police on him in the past over noise complaints.
• A statement released by the Afzaal family says Veltman’s attack, “was influence [sic] by a group that he associated with.”
• Veltman was arrested “without incident” by police in the parking lot of a mall some seven kilometres away from the scene of the killings five minutes after the incident. He was reportedly wearing what has varyingly been described in media reports as “body armour” or a “military-style vest.” The mall is a five-minute walk from London Muslim Mosque which, according to Ginella Massa of CBC’s Canada Tonight, has hired police to patrol outside during Friday prayers since the Christchurch massacre in March 2019.
• The London attack is the deadliest against Canadian Muslims since the Quebec Mosque shooting of 2017 that claimed six lives and injured five others.
• The London attack is also one of several high-profile incidents involving Canadian Muslims in recent days and months across the country. They include some 14 attacks involving “racial slurs, obscene gestures and physical assaults” against Muslim women in Alberta since last December. The NCCM, which has called on the province of Alberta to establish a task force to look into the rise of anti-Muslim incidents, says the attacks are occurring “in the context of rising hate crimes against Albertan Muslims and the emboldening of white supremacists and neo-Nazi organization in the province.”
• In April, a Montreal mosque, the Centre Communautaire Islamique Assahaba, reported being targeted by a masked man firing an air gun at the windows of the mosque.
• At a virtual event in Saskatoon in January to mark the anniversary of the 2017 Quebec Mosque shooting, organizers reported that several people logged in to interrupt the ceremony with racist remarks.
• In September 2020, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was stabbed to death outside the IMO mosque in Etobicoke. The suspect arrested in that case is alleged to have ties to a white supremacist group.