Canada truck attack suspect charged with terrorism

A vigil is held in London, Ontario for the Afzaal family

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Canada’s attorney general has approved terror charges against a man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family with his vehicle in London, Ontario.

London police have said that Nathaniel Veltman, 20, intentionally targeted the family because of their faith, running them over in a “premeditated” attack.

Mr Veltman also faces four first-degree murder charges and one attempted murder charge.

Three generations of the Afzaal family were killed, leaving just one survivor.

Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Mr Afzaal’s mother, 74, were killed while on an evening walk on 6 June. The family’s nine-year-old son was the only survivor, and remains in hospital with serious injuries.

Mr Veltman – who police have said has had no prior convictions – has not yet entered a plea. He made a brief appearance through a video call in court on Monday, wearing an oversized orange t-shirt and orange pants, with a blue face covering, local media report.

He told the judge he had not yet retained a lawyer.

The next court hearing has been scheduled for 21 June.

Commenting on the additional terrorism charge on Monday, Canada’s deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said it was “important” to name the attack “as an act of terror”.

London police said in a statement that they worked with the attorney general and federal prosecutors to determine Mr Veltman’s charges. Authorities said that the investigation is still ongoing but there is no further threat to the public.

They have not yet said what evidence led to the belief that the murders were motivated by hate.

Afzaal-Salman family

Courtesy Saboor Khan

Mr Veltman was arrested shortly after the attack in a parking lot close to London’s oldest mosque, where the Afzaal family were devoted members.

The suspect was wearing what appeared to be body armour and a helmet, police said. 

It is the third time terrorist activity charges have been laid in the past year after attacks in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.

With murder-terrorism charges, prosecutors must prove there was the intent to cause death or serious harm, evidence that the act was committed for a political, religious or ideological purpose, and evidence that the act was meant to intimidate the public or a specific group.

The attack has sent waves of grief and fear across the country, as London’s tight-knit Muslim community mourns the loss of a beloved family.

Saboor Khan, a long-time friend of the family, told the Globe and Mail newspaper that adding the terrorism charge was “the right thing to do”.

“The family and the community has been terrorised and many of us are afraid to leave out homes,” he said.

A public funeral for the Afzaal family on Sunday drew hundreds of mourners to London, a small city two hours west of Toronto. Thousands had gathered on Tuesday for a vigil to honour the family.

An online fundraiser for the surviving nine-year-old son has raised nearly C$900,000 ($742,000; £525,400) as of Monday morning. A parallel campaign by the family’s relatives in the US has raised more than C$1.1m.

All of Canada’s major party leaders have also joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in decrying the violence as an act of terror in a show of rare political unity.

The attack has also renewed discussions about Islamophobia in Canada.

In an open letter to Mr Trudeau, the National Council of Canadian Muslims urged the prime minister to commit to “concrete action” in addressing “deeply rooted systemic Islamophobia”, including appointing a special envoy dedicated to the issue.

Members of the Canadian Muslim community have come under attack before – in January 2017, a man shot six worshippers at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. The perpetrator was sentenced to life in prison.