Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday called the killing of four members of a Muslim family mowed down by a pickup truck “a terrorist attack.”
“Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence,” the Prime Minister said before the House of Commons. “This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one in our community.”
The family of five was waiting at an intersection in the Canadian city of London on Sunday when a driver intentionally mounted the curb and struck them, killing four, because of their Islamic faith, officials said.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” said Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London Police. “There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims.”
Trudeau said the victims were two parents, two children and a grandmother. He identified them as Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha, and their daughter Yumna. Salman and Madiha’s son, Fayez, survived the attack. The grandmother was not identified.
“We all hope that little boy will be able to heal from his injuries quickly even though we know he will have to live a very long time with the sadness, anger and incomprehension caused by the cowardly, Islamophobic attack,” Trudeau said.
Officials had not identified the victims before Trudeau’s speech. A 74-year-old woman was pronounced dead at the scene Sunday night and the other four family members – a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman, a 15-year-old girl, and a 9-year-old boy – were transported to the hospital by paramedic services.
The parents and their daughter died at the hospital, police said. The son is recovering in serious but non-life-threatening condition, officials said.
A GoFundMe account set up on behalf of the family had raised more than $340,000 as of Tuesday afternoon. “The horrific nature of the crimes perpetrated against the Salman family serve as a reminder of the long shadow of Islamophobia that is cast on the lives of peaceful Muslim families across the world,” the page said.
Salman Afzaal was a physiotherapist who participated in local cricket matches and was active in the community at his mosque, according to the GoFundMe page.
Madiha Salman was completing a doctorate in Civil Engineering at Western University, according to the page. “She was a brilliant scholar and a caring mother and friend,” the page said.
Yumna Salman was nearly finished with the ninth grade, according to the page.
The grandmother, the mother of Salman Afzaal who was not named, is described as “a pillar of their family that cherished their daily walks.”
The page said donations will be used as “sadaqa-jariya” on behalf of the Salman family. The page described sadaqa-jariya as “an important concept within Islam — it is a gift that not only benefits others in this life but also benefits us and our loved ones in the next.”
20-year-old man arrested, charged with murder
Trudeau said Islamophobic attacks throughout the country diminish all Canadians.
“This is happening here in Canada and it has to stop,” he said. “We must not become desensitized to this violence. We must not accept this as normal. Every time we witness such hate, we must call it out.”
The House of Commons observed a moment of silence for the victims before Trudeau spoke on Tuesday.
According to Waight, the family was waiting at the intersection when a black pickup truck, driven by 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, mounted the curb and struck them.
Veltman was later stopped in the parking lot of a mall, where he was arrested, according to police. He has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
According to Waight, London Police are working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on potential terrorism charges against Veltman. It is unclear if Veltman has obtained an attorney.
“We understand that this event may cause fear and anxiety in the community, and in particular the Muslim community, in any community targeted by hate. I want to reassure all Londoners that all of us on the call today and many others stand with you and support you,” London Police Chief Steve Williams said. “There is no tolerance in this community for individuals who, motivated by hate, target others with violence.”
London is a city in southwestern Ontario with a population of around 385,000 people.
Trudeau said in a statement on Monday that he was horrified by the attack.
“To the loved ones of those who were terrorized by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you. 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,” Trudeau said.
“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop,” he added.