Police in the Canadian province of Ontario said a driver intentionally struck a family because they were Muslim, killing four people and seriously injuring a nine-year-old boy in what has been denounced as an “act of unspeakable hatred” and Islamophobia.
The victims, all members of the same family, were hit last Sunday evening while waiting to cross a street in the city of London, 200km southwest of Toronto.
Police said the victims were two women aged 77 and 44, a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured and is recovering in hospital.
“This was an act of mass murder perpetuated against Muslims,” London Mayor Ed Holder said. “It was rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017. Holder said it was the worst mass murder his city had ever seen.
Eyewitness Paige Martin told reporters a black truck blasted past her and ran a red light, and then she came upon the scene and saw “chaos”. First responders were running to help, a police officer was performing chest compressions on one person, and three other people were lying on the ground.
A few dozen people stood on the sidewalk and several drivers got out of their cars to help. “I can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head,” Martin said.
Zahid Khan, a family friend, said the three generations among the dead were a grandmother, father, mother and teenage daughter. The family had immigrated from Pakistan 14 years ago and were dedicated, decent and generous members of the London Muslim Mosque, he said.
“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.
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. The hospitalised 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 their spiritual identity.”
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 family statement said 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,” it said.
By late evening on Monday, a steady stream of mourners was seen arriving near the scene of the attack, dropping off flowers and saying prayers. One placard read: “When does it stop? Enough.”
London, which has about 400,000 residents, has a large Muslim community and Mayor Holder said Arabic is the second-most-spoken language after English in the city.
The teenage girl who was killed “will be deeply missed by fellow students and staff at Oakridge Secondary School”, the school said in a statement.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “horrified” by what he described as an “act of hatred”, and said his thoughts were with the victims’ loved ones, including the young boy who survived.
“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,” Trudeau tweeted.
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. – Al-Jazeera