TORONTO (Dispatches) -- An apparent pickup truck attack that killed four members of an immigrant family in Canada drew denunciations from Pakistan’s prime minister on Tuesday, who called it a deliberate act of terrorism targeting Muslims.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that Sunday’s attack reveals the growing Islamophobia in western countries.
Canadian authorities said they were investigating potential terrorism charges against the 20-year-old man who was arrested in the parking lot of a nearby mall after a black pickup truck mounted a curb and struck the victims at an intersection in the Ontario city of London.
The extended family issued a statement identifying the dead as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15, and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld. A hospitalized boy was identified as Fayez.
“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzal family know the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” the statement said.
“They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with spiritual their identity.”
Friends said the family had migrated to Canada 14 years ago. A fundraising webpage said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast and his wife was working on a PhD in civil engineering at Western University in London. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade, and the grandmother was a “pillar” of the family, the page said.
The family said in its statement that the public needs to stand against hate and Islamophobia.
“This young man who committed this act of terror was influenced by a group that he associated with, and the rest of the community must take a strong stand against this, from the highest levels in our government to every member of the community,” the statement said.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was facing four counts of first-degree murder. Police said Veltman, a resident of London, did not know the victims.
Detective Supt. Paul Waight said police had not determined if the suspect was a member of any specific hate group. He said London police were working with federal police and prosecutors to see about potential terrorism charges. He declined to detail evidence pointing to a possible hate crime, but said the attack was planned.
Many placed flowers around a light pole and a nearby tree where the truck hopped the curb onto the sidewalk. A vigil was scheduled for Tuesday night at the mosque the family attended.
Rauf Ahmad and three friends watched the growing tribute on the corner.
“I didn’t think there was racism in Canada and I felt very safe when I came here two years ago, but I do not feel safe now,” Ahmad said. “Humanity is first, we should not care about whether someone is a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian.”
In 2017 a French Canadian man known for far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.
Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the family belonged to the London Muslim Mosque.
“They were just out for their walk that they would go out for every day,” Khan said through tears near the site of the crash. “I just wanted to see.”
Mayor Ed Holder said flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 residents.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair called the attack “an horrific act of Islamophobia” and said federal resources are available to assist London police in their investigation, if they require it.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national advocacy group, said it was “beyond horrified” by the deadly attack.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such. We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including considering terrorist charges,” the group’s CEO, Mustafa Farooq, said in a statement.
“Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia, with attacks on Muslim women in Alberta, the IMO mosque killing, and the Quebec City mosque massacre.
“But this loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia - this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time. But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change.”