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Police tracing London attack suspect’s ‘online footprint,’ looking at terrorism charges, chief says

Click to play video: 'Kingston gathers in solidarity with London attack victims, Muslim community' Kingston gathers in solidarity with London attack victims, Muslim community
WATCH: A group gathering in Kingston for a walk in solidarity with those affected by the London, Ont., attack on a Muslim family that left four dead. A vigil will be held in Springer Market Square Wednesday night as well – Jun 9, 2021

The investigation into the 20-year-old accused of killing four members of a Muslim family with his pickup truck in London, Ont., is trying to trace the suspect’s “thought patterns” and “online footprint,” London’s police chief said Wednesday.

In an interview with Global News, Chief Steve Williams of the London Police Service was reluctant to disclose the evidence police had gathered, but said it was quickly apparent Nathaniel Veltman had targeted a Muslim family.

“It was pretty clear from the investigation that occurred immediately at the scene, and like I said, there’s a number of witnesses,” Williams said.

“Then obviously we, as you know, arrested the accused a short distance away and we recovered the vehicle.

“So without getting into the details of what evidence came from all that, we were fairly comfortable at an early stage attributing this to being a hate-motivated crime, and as I indicated, this family was targeted because of their Islamic faith.”

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The investigation is continuing and police are still trying to determine whether terrorism charges are warranted, he said, adding no ties to hate groups had surfaced and “it appears that he undertook this by himself based on what we know today.”

Read more: London attack was latest of Canada’s ‘most deadly’ form of extremism, national security adviser says

A resident of London and a part-time egg processing plant employee, Veltman has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder over the alleged vehicle attack.

Police said Monday they believed the victims were targeted because they were Muslims. The victims are: Salman Afzaal, 46; Madiha Salman, 44; Yumna Afzaal, 15; and Talat Afzaal, 74. Fayez Afzaal, 9, was the lone survivor.

The police chief said investigators were “trying to piece together what the thought patterns may have been and what led to him undertaking this act on so many,” as well as tracing his movements and what he may have been doing on the internet.

“Certainly we look for the online footprint. Everybody leaves one. Everybody’s on the internet, they’re on their phones every day, and it would form part of our investigation. So we would expect to find something. I don’t know what that will be, but it’ll form part of the investigation,” Williams said.

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“It’s a puzzle that we put together, so there’s a number of different pieces, and it goes from witnesses and any video that may be available, what people saw, what people heard, and then our interaction with the accused.”

Click to play video: 'London attack suspect’s former co-worker shocked by charges' London attack suspect’s former co-worker shocked by charges
London attack suspect’s former co-worker shocked by charges – Jun 8, 2021

Friends and co-workers have said Veltman grew up in Strathroy, Ont., but left home as a teen and went to work at the Gray Ridge egg farm. He lived in an apartment building in London and bought a used pickup truck about a month ago.

According to witnesses, immediately following Sunday’s attack, he was spotted outside a nearby shopping mall and asked a taxi driver to phone the police because he had just killed someone. His truck was allegedly outfitted with a ram bar.

Asked about the truck, as well as a helmet and body armor Veltman was allegedly wearing, Williams said it was part of the investigation. He said he did not know whether Veltman’s clothing had swastikas on it, as some witnesses have reported.

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Read more: Thousands attend vigil for Muslim family killed, injured in London, Ont. attack

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has labelled the attack an act of terrorism, Williams said police were still trying to determine whether terrorism charges would be laid against Veltman.

“We really have to be careful with the terrorism charge. There’s a high bar that’s been set in the legislation, and without getting into the elements of the offence, we just … need to be cautious,” he said.

“So we’re working with our federal counterparts and and prosecutors as we move forward with that facet of the investigation.

“We only get to do this once. As I indicated, there’s no re-dos. So we need to collect the evidence and then lay any appropriate charge. And if there’s grounds to support such a charge, then we’ll carry it through the court process.

“But it’s not lost on us, the terrorism angle.”

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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