OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday labeled the killing of four members of a Muslim family, who were run down by a man driving a pick-up truck, as a “terrorist attack”.
“This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Trudeau said during a speech at the House of Commons.
The victims, who were struck as they walked together along a sidewalk, represent three generations of the same family, according to a statement issued by their relatives.
The husband and wife, plus their teenage daughter and a woman identified as the man’s mother were killed when a black pick-up truck mounted the curb and struck them at an intersection in the city of London in Canada’s central Ontario province. The driver of the truck was arrested.
The couple’s nine-year-old son was hospitalized following the attack but is recovering, the statement said.
“We all hope the little boy can recover from his injuries quickly, even though we know he will live a long time with the sadness, incomprehension and anger caused by this cowardly Islamophobic attack,” Trudeau said, briefly switching to French.
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The victims have been identified as Madiha Salman, age 44, who had done post-graduate work in the field of civil and environmental engineering at Western University in London, as well as her husband, Salman Afzaal age 46. Their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Salman, was also killed as well as a woman reported to be Afzaal’s mother, age 74. The family is of Pakistani origin.
London police said Monday the suspect had deliberately attacked a Muslim family with his pick-up in a premeditated and planned act, motivated by hatred.
The 20-year-old suspect, arrested shortly after the attack, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, while several leaders of the Muslim community have called on the courts to deem the episode a terrorist attack.
Among them is the Muslim Association of Canada, which asked authorities to “prosecute this horrific attack as an act of hate and terrorism.”
The suspect, identified as Nathaniel Veltman, who was wearing a vest “like body armor,” was arrested at a mall seven kilometers (four miles) from the intersection where the attack happened, said Detective Superintendent Paul Waight.
The episode brought back painful memories of a Quebec City mosque mass shooting in January 2017 that left six dead and a driving rampage in Toronto that killed 10 people in April 2018, among other attacks.
“They were all targeted because of their Muslim faith,” Trudeau said, promising to step up the country’s fight against far-right racist groups. “This is happening here, in Canada. And it has to stop.”
Party leaders in the House of Commons condemned the violence as an act of “Islamophobia,” which have multiplied in recent years in the country long known for its tolerance.
“The reality is our Canada is a place of racism of violence, of genocide of indigenous people, and our counties, a place where Muslims aren’t safe, they aren’t,” said Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats.
Flower bouquets and toys have been placed at the scene of the attack and a vigil in memory of the victims is set to take place later Tuesday at a mosque, with Trudeau and Singh plus the leader of the conservative opposition, Erin O’Toole, among those who plan to attend.