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Man Accused of Truck Attack on Canadian Muslim Family Appears in Court

Man Accused of Truck Attack on Canadian Muslim Family Appears in Court

Friday, 11 June, 2021 - 08:00
People and members of the media are seen at a makeshift memorial at the fatal crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over a Muslim family in what police say was a deliberately targeted anti-Islamic hate crime, in London, Ontario, Canada June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

A Canadian man accused of slamming his pick-up truck into a Muslim family in London, Ontario, killing four people, made a brief court appearance Thursday.


Nathaniel Veltman, 20, appeared by videoconference at the hearing in orange prison garb with cropped hair, to sort out his legal representation. A new court date was set for June 14.


Veltman, who has never been convicted of a crime and has no known extremist group affiliations, has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. If found guilty he faces life in prison.


A funeral for the victims -- 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal -- is scheduled for 1:30 pm Saturday.


The couple's son, Fayez, 9, is recovering in hospital.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the attack on a family out for a Sunday evening stroll a "terrorist attack."


His public safety minister, Bill Blair, told public broadcaster CBC the killings were "clearly racist."


"And I can confirm that this is being actively investigated as a terrorist act by the police authorities," he said, which could lead to additional charges under Canada's anti-terrorism act.


Detective Superintendent Paul Waight, who is leading the investigation, said Monday there was evidence "that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate."


"It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim," he told a news conference.


At about 8:40 pm on Sunday (0040 GMT Monday), according to police, the Afzaal family was walking along a sidewalk when a black 2016 Dodge Ram truck "mounted the curb and struck" them.


The suspect fled the scene and was arrested a few miles away, where he came face to face with a taxi driver on a break, said local media.


He stopped behind the yellow taxi and, according to an account by the taxi driver's boss Hasan Savehilaghi, "yelled at our colleague to call police because he had killed somebody."


The taxi driver -- who is also Muslim -- reportedly spotted heavy front-end damage to the suspect's truck as well as blood splatters.


Police arrived quickly and arrested the suspect, who was wearing what Waight described as a vest "like body armor," as well as a military helmet and a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika, the taxi company president said.


"He was laughing the entire time," Savehilaghi told local media.


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