Four members of a Canadian Muslim family who were killed on Sunday when a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran them over were targeted in an anti-Islamic hate crime, Canadian police said on Monday.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate,” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London, Ontario, police department told reporters.
“It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” Waight said.
Police arrested the suspected attacker, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, on Sunday. His truck swerved off the road, over the curb, struck the family and then drove off at high speed, police said, citing witnesses.
Eyewitness Paige Martin told reporters a black truck blasted past her and ran a red light as she was walking, and then she came upon the scene and saw “chaos”: “It was just absolutely like something that you never want to see.”
Veltman, described as a London resident, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He is due in back in court on Thursday after being remanded to custody on Monday.
Veltman does not have a criminal record, and is not known to be a member of a hate group, police said. He was arrested in a mall parking lot without incident while wearing a body-armor-type vest, police said. There is no evidence he had any accomplices.
Police have not yet released the victims’ names, but the London Free Press said that among the dead were 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 attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017. London Mayor Ed Holder said it was the worst mass murder his city – 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Toronto – had ever seen.
“We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased,” Holder told reporters. “This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter that he was “horrified” by the news, adding that “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop.”
Waight said police in London were consulting with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and prosecutorsabout potentially filing terrorism charges.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such,” said Mustafa Farooq, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
“There are some very, very scared people out there,” Holder said.
London, which has about 400,000 residents, has a large Muslim community and Holder said Arabic is the second-most-spoken language to English in the city.
The teenage girl who was killed “will be deeply missed by fellow students and staff at Oakridge Secondary School,” according to a school statement.
One man who described himself as a neighbor in an interview with Global News, said he met with the family on holidays.
“He was a family guy, very much involved in the community, a regular member of our mosque, a really, really great father,” the neighbor, who was not identified, said of Syed Afzaal.
“He loved to walk with his family. Almost every evening, they walked.”