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‘Brutal and horrific’: Condolences pour in for Muslim family killed in London, Ont. attack

Click to play video: 'London, Ont. Mayor calls deadly attack on Muslim family ‘act of mass murder’' London, Ont. Mayor calls deadly attack on Muslim family ‘act of mass murder’
WATCH: London, Ont. Mayor calls deadly attack on Muslim family ‘act of mass murder’ – Jun 7, 2021

The London, Ont., Muslim family killed in a vehicle attack are being remembered as a “model family,” as condolences continue to pour in from across the country.

In a statement released late Monday evening, a spokesperson for the victims said the Afzaals were a “model family,” who were “always there giving and participating in spreading goodness.”

Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman and their daughter Yumna Salman were struck and killed by a vehicle while out for a walk Sunday evening.

Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother was also killed in the attack.

Click to play video: '4 pedestrians dead after single-vehicle collision in London, Ont.' 4 pedestrians dead after single-vehicle collision in London, Ont.
4 pedestrians dead after single-vehicle collision in London, Ont – Jun 7, 2021

The couple’s nine-year-old son was taken to hospital and is being treated for serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.

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The statement said the “destruction of a family” in a “brutal and horrific manner” is “something we must all stand against.”

“We need to stand against hate and Islamophobia and raise awareness in our communities and throughout all political spectrum.”

Read more: 4 pedestrians, including teen, struck and killed in northwest London, Ont.: police

At a press conference earlier on Monday, police said they believe the Afzaal family was targeted because of their faith.

London Police Chief Steve Williams said investigators believe the attack was an “intentional act.”

“We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith,” he told reporters.

The driver of the vehicle was arrested roughly six kilometres away from the scene.

Twenty-year-old Nathaniel Veltman has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and a count of attempted murder. Police said he was arrested without incident.

Officers said the suspect does not have a previous record of criminal offences or criminal convictions, and resides in the city.

London Police Det.-Supt. Paul Waight told the news conference that the force has received “several phone calls from our policing partners offering their assistance,” including the RCMP.

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He said they will be “liasing with them in terms of potential terrorism charges, along with liason with the Ministry of the Attorney General.”

“Gut-wrenching”

In a statement Monday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said it is “beyond horrified,” and “demands justice after the horrific car attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario.”

The NCCM said this “is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such.”

“We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including considering terrorist charges,” Mustafa Farooq, CEO of NCCM said in a statement.

“Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia,” he said, pointing to attacks on Muslim women in Alberta, the IMO mosque killing and the Quebec City mosque massacre.

“But this loss is 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,” Farooq said. “But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change.”

Read more: 4 killed in London, Ont. attack likely targeted for being Muslim, police say

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Nadia Hasan, Chief Operating Officer at the NCCM, called the news “absolutely gut-wrenching.”

She told Global News it has shaken her, and the community “to the core.”

“The loss of life that is absolutely tragic, senseless and so cold-hearted,” she said. “And it’s difficult to talk about without thinking about especially the fact that this was an entire family, that almost all of its members were wiped out by one man who was motivated by Islamophobia.”

Read more: A look at Islamophobia in Canada, 3 years after the Quebec mosque shooting

She said “as far as we can tell, this was a terrorist attack on Canadian soil.”

“This is someone who premeditated. They got in their car, they went out there looking to kill Canadian citizens,” Hasan said. “And this is something that, I think, there is no doubt in my mind that this falls within what we would imagine terrorism means.”

Condolences pour in

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “horrified” by the news.

“To the loved ones of those who were terrorized by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you,” he wrote in a series of tweets on Monday. “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.

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“Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop.”

In a tweet Monday afternoon, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said we are all “standing with Muslims in London today after horrific news that four members of a family were targeted and killed because they were Muslim.”

All Canadians “must confront racism and violence anywhere we see it so we can create a country safe and welcoming for all people,” Blair wrote.

Blair went further in a statement released late Monday evening, saying Canadians “should remain shocked” and recognize that “racism, hatred and Islamophobia still exist,” and that that “we all need to redouble our efforts to push back against it.”

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Click to play video: 'London vehicle attack suspect arrested kilometres from scene: police' London vehicle attack suspect arrested kilometres from scene: police
London vehicle attack suspect arrested kilometres from scene: police – Jun 7, 2021

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said “hate and Islamaphobia have NO place in Ontario,” adding that, “justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that took place” in London on Sunday.

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“My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends during this difficult time,” he wrote. “These heinous acts of violence must stop.”

London Mayor Ed Holder said Londoner’s “hearts are broken.”

“We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased,” he said in a statement. “We pray for the recovery of the 9-year-old boy who remains in hospital.”

Holder said he has ordered flags outside of City Hall to be flown at half-mast.

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“Let me be clear: this was an act of mass murder, perpetuated against Muslims — against Londoners — and rooted in unspeakable hatred,” he said.

“Together we will grieve, and together our hearts will mend.”

Nawaz Tahir, a London-area lawyer and Muslim community leader, said the community has suffered an “immense tragedy.”

The horror that has visited this family, the Canadian Muslim community and Canada at large last night is unfathomable,” he told reporters at the press conference. “These were innocent human beings who were killed simply because they’re Muslim.” 

Click to play video: '‘You are safe’: London, Ont. police chief reassures Muslim community after deadly vehicle attack' ‘You are safe’: London, Ont. police chief reassures Muslim community after deadly vehicle attack
‘You are safe’: London, Ont. police chief reassures Muslim community after deadly vehicle attack – Jun 7, 2021

Tahir said the London Muslim community has a “long history” in the city.

“This is our home and it is as much a part of us as we are a part of it. The individual that did this doesn’t understand that,” he said. “We will stand strong against hate, we will stand strong against Islamophobia. We will respond to those trying to inflict terror on our community with love.”

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Tahir said we must “confront and stamp out Islamophobia and Islamophobic violence, not tomorrow — today.”

“For the sake of our children, our families, our communities,” he said.

In a statement Monday evening, Ihsaan Gardee, programs and communications director at Amnesty International Canada, said it is “horrific and deeply disturbing that such an egregious act of Islamophobia could still occur today.”

“Hatred and discrimination, regardless of who it targets, must be condemned.”

Gardee called on governments to “work together” to adequately resource a concrete and robust action plan to address Islamophobia and other forms of hate.”

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Canada’s Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he was “deeply shocked and disturbed” by the news, and offered his thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families and friends.

“There’s been a troubling rise of Islamophobic and Anti-Arab incidents and we must remain vigilant against those who want to hurt other or divide us,” he wrote in a tweet Monday afternoon.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the incident “horrific and heart-breaking,” and shared his “deepest condolences” with the friends and family of the victims.

“This type of vile and extreme hatred must be condemned,” he wrote on Twitter.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the news “horrifying,” saying the family was “murdered because of their faith.”

“This is an act of Islamophobia & terror,” he tweeted. “More than ever we must stand (with) our Muslim family, friends & neighbours against such vile hate.”

Investigation underway

The London Police Service’s major crime unit is leading the investigation into the attack.

In an email to Global News, Sgt. Lucie Lapointe, a spokesperson for the RCMP’s Ontario Division said the force is “giving its full support to the London Police Service who are investigating the incident.”

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“Our thoughts remain with the victims and their loved ones,” the email read.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) said it “does not publicly comment, or confirm or deny the specifics of our investigations, operational interest, methodologies or activities in order to maintain the integrity” of its operations.

One man told Global News that he and Veltman were “very good friends” and co-workers for almost three years.

He said he never saw any intolerance or bigotry from him.

“What comes as a surprise is I was raised Muslim, my father is from Iran (and) Nate never mentioned anything and never treated me differently,” he said.

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He said Veltman was “raised very Christian and with very strong morals.”

“Nate is not a bad person — well, the Nate I know. I’m not sure what’s happened to him,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen Veltman in “about a year.”

“Me and (a) few friends were talking today and wondering if he hasn’t been brainwashed by white supremacists online and such,” he said.

— With files from Global News’ Nick Westoll and Jacquelyn LeBel

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