Canadian who killed Muslim family inspired by white nationalism: Prosecutor

Prosecutor says the accused planned the 2021 attack, which killed four members of the Afzaal family in Ontario, for months.

People return signs reading 'Islamophobia kills' at a protest in Toronto, Canada
The attack has spurred ongoing calls in Canada for measures to combat Islamophobia [File: Alex Filipe/Reuters]

A Canadian man inspired by white nationalist beliefs acted deliberately and with premeditation when he crashed his pick-up truck into a Muslim family, killing four people in an alleged “terrorist” rampage, the prosecutor said at the opening of the man’s trial.

Federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh said in the opening statement on Monday that Nathaniel Veltman, 22, planned his attack for three months before driving his Dodge Ram truck directly at the Muslim family.

Veltman is accused of deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ontario, on the evening of June 6, 2021.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Veltman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the case, which is the first time arguments of a terrorism motive related to white supremacy will be heard in a Canadian court.

In her opening statement, Shaikh said Veltman drove his truck, which he bought just more than two weeks before the attack, “pedal to the metal”, kicking up a cloud of dust as the vehicle surged over the sidewalk’s curb, striking his victims.

Shaikh said Veltman told detectives after he was arrested that his intentions were political, that he left his home on the day of the attack looking for Muslims to kill and that he used a truck to send a message to others that vehicles can be used to attack Muslims.

The attack on the Afzaal family sent waves of shock, grief and fear across Canada and spurred ongoing calls for measures to combat Islamophobia.

Veltman was arrested at a nearby mall, wearing body armour and a helmet, after the attack. According to the prosecutor he was overheard in the background of a 911 call saying, “It was me who crashed into them… I did it on purpose”.

As he was being handcuffed, he also told police he wanted to “send a strong message” against Muslim immigration, Shaikh said.

Evidence collected by police included writings gushing about white nationalism and against mass immigration. Several knives and an air gun were also seized from the attacker’s truck.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the killings were “a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred”.

The killing of three generations of the Afzaal family was the deadliest anti-Muslim attack in Canada since a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017 that left six dead. The perpetrator of that shooting was not charged with terrorism.

Veltman, who wore an oversized wrinkled black suit and white shirt, sat quietly in court as proceedings began on Monday but his hand was shaking when he tried to pour water into a paper cup on his desk.

His lawyer Peter Ketcheson took the jug and filled his cup with some water.

The trial is expected to last about eight weeks.

Source: News Agencies