(C) Reuters. A woman prays at the London Muslim Mosque, which is located about 500 metres from where police arrested the suspect of a hate-motivated attack that killed four members of a Muslim family, in London, Ontario, Canada June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio
By Steve Scherer and Carlos Osorio
OTTAWA/LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) -Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday promised to redouble efforts to fight far-right groups two days after a hate-motivated attack that killed four members of a Muslim family in the city of London, Ontario.
“This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons after observing a moment of silence.
The family, killed on Sunday when a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran them over, were targeted because of their religion, Canadian police said. The victims spanned three generations of a family and ranged in age from 15 to 74. A 9-year-old boy who survived remains hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
London, a city of about 400,000 people located halfway between Detroit and Toronto, has a large Muslim community and at least three mosques.
Rows of freshly cut flowers were placed on the grass at the entrance of the London Muslim Mosque, a place of worship at the heart of that community which the victims had attended.
“The London Muslim Mosque, it’s the second-oldest mosque in Canada. … This London (Muslim) community here has helped build this city,” said Omar Khamissa, community engagement officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims nonprofit group.
“This is their home. And for the first time those that wear the scarf, who have beard, feel it’s not,” Khamissa said.
During the morning, a steady stream of adults and children left bouquets of flowers, stuffed animals and small signs expressing outrage at the street corner where the family was killed while taking a summer evening stroll.
“We’ll continue to fight hate online and offline … (including) taking more action to dismantle far-right hate groups, like we did with the Proud Boys by adding them to Canada’s terror listing,” said Trudeau, due to attend a vigil outside the mosque later on Tuesday.
Police arrested a man named Nathaniel Veltman, 20, in a parking lot about three-tenths of a mile (500 meters) from the mosque. He was wearing a body-armor type of vest. Veltman, who is white, was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Authorities are reviewing possible terrorism charges.
The mosque bolstered security measures after a gunman killed 51 people in 2019 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to Aarij Anwer, its imam and Islamic education coordinator.
“We’ve been ramping up our security since that time, and now even more,” Anwer said in a telephone interview. “Islamophobia is bubbling under the surface and it rears its ugly head from time to time with devastating consequences.”
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 called it the worst mass murder in his city’s history.
“Muslims wonder, how many more lives will it take, how many families will be mowed – mowed – down in the streets, how many more families will be killed before we do something?” opposition New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh, the first person from an ethnic minority to lead a major Canadian political party, said in the House of Commons after Trudeau spoke.
In February, Canada designated the far-right Proud Boys group a terrorist entity, saying it posed an active security threat after the January U.S. Capitol attack in Washington. Although the group has never mounted an attack in Canada, officials said domestic intelligence forces have become increasingly worried about it.
An anti-Islam rally was held in London in 2017 that was organized by a group called the Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), with counter protesters greatly outnumbering the anti-Muslim demonstrators, according to media reports at the time.
Veltman appears to have had little social media footprint. A spokesperson at the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that tracks hate groups, said that is unusual for a 20-year-old man.
“Someone poured poison into his ear,” said the spokesperson, who asked not to be named. “We hope that further information will be shared to help determine and identify his online and media consumption.”