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London, Ont., attack planned 3 months in advance, prosecutors allege

Click to play video: 'Defendant wanted to kill Muslims, prosecutors allege'
Defendant wanted to kill Muslims, prosecutors allege
WATCH: Defendant wanted to kill Muslims, prosecutors allege – Sep 11, 2023

WINDSOR, Ont. — Federal prosecutors are arguing that a man facing murder charges in the deaths of four members of a Muslim family in Ontario was motivated by white nationalist beliefs, branding the attack as an act of terrorism.

Nathaniel Veltman is accused of deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ont., on the evening of June 6, 2021.

Federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh has delivered her opening statement to the jury, alleging Veltman planned his attack for three months before driving his Dodge Ram truck directly at the Muslim family.

She says Veltman drove his truck, which he bought just over two weeks before the attack, “pedal to the metal,” kicking up a cloud of dust as the vehicle surged over the sidewalk’s curb, striking his victims.

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Click to play video: 'Prosecutors say London, Ont., attack was an act of terrorism'
Prosecutors say London, Ont., attack was an act of terrorism

Shaikh says Veltman told detectives after he was arrested that his intentions were political, that he left his home on the day of the attack looking for Muslims to kill, and that he used a truck to send a message to others that vehicles can be used to attack Muslims.

Veltman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna, and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the London attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance has said the trial is expected to last about eight weeks, not 12, after the Crown and defence agreed on shortening the list of witnesses.

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Veltman, who wore an over-sized wrinkled black suit and white shirt, sat quietly in court as proceedings began but his hand was shaking when he tried to pour water in a paper cup on his desk. His lawyer Peter Ketcheson took the jug and filled his cup with some water.

Veltman’s other defence lawyer, Christopher Hicks, was also sitting in the courtroom next to him.
Jury selection for the trial, which is taking place in Windsor, Ont., wrapped last week, with 14 jurors chosen.

Pomerance ruled last year that a change of venue was warranted in the case, moving the trial from London to Windsor. The reasons for that decision, as well as the evidence and arguments presented in court on the matter, cannot be disclosed due to a publication ban.

The attack on the Afzaal family sent waves of shock, grief and fear across Canada and spurred ongoing calls for measures to combat Islamophobia in the country.

Leaders of the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Muslim community in London said last week that community members are hoping justice will be served in the trial.

After the attack, the National Council of Canadian Muslims released a list of recommendations to fight anti-Muslim hate across Canada, including calling on the federal and provincial governments to commit to anti-Islamophobia strategies in education and provide resources.

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The federal government hosted a summit on Islamophobia in July 2021 to hear Muslim Canadians’ ideas and insights on how Ottawa could prevent attacks targeting their community.

In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed journalist and human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative to combat Islamophobia, to serve as an adviser and expert as the federal government works to fight religious intolerance and systemic racism.

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