Man accused of anti-Muslim attack in Canada appears in court

Nathaniel Veltman faces multiple murder charges after driving his pick-up truck into a Muslim family.

Kira Stephani speaks with her daughters Aisha Sayyed (front) and Aliyah Sayyed at a makeshift memorial for the Muslim family killed in London, Ontario, in 2021
People gathered at the makeshift memorial set up near the scene where a man driving a pick-up truck ran over a Muslim family in what police say was a deliberately targeted Islamophobic attack, in London, Ontario, Canada [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

The man accused of mowing down a Muslim family with his pick-up truck in what Canadian police are calling a hate-motivated attack appeared briefly by Zoom before a judge on Thursday and is due back early next week.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was arrested on Sunday in a London, Ontario, mall parking lot, a short distance from the city’s oldest mosque. He was wearing what appeared to be an armoured vest and a helmet at the time, police said.

Veltman, who will next appear in court on Monday, faces four charges of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

People praying during a vigil ceremony held in honour of the Muslim family in London, Ontario, Canada [Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Police said Veltman was not known to have links to any hate groups but added that they were still investigating and terror charges were being considered.

London police chief Steve Williams told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp that little information is being made public in order to guarantee the integrity of the judicial process.

“We have to be protective of the information to ensure that the court process goes untainted by anything we do or say right now,” Williams said.

Four members of one family, spanning three generations, were killed when the truck ran them over while they were out for an evening walk near their home.

Relatives have identified the dead as 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. The couple’s son, nine-year-old Fayez, was seriously wounded but is expected to recover.

“The front part of the pick-up truck was severely damaged” and was stained with blood, said Hasan Savehilaghi, president of a taxi firm, recounting details provided by one of his drivers who was at the scene of the arrest.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau placing flowers at a vigil outside the London Muslim Mosque [Nathan Denette/Pool via Reuters]

Savehilaghi said as the suspect was dragged from his truck by police, he was chanting, but his words were not clear. Veltman yelled at the taxi driver to film the arrest.

“He was enjoying the scene, like it was important for him to be recorded,” said Savehilaghi.

On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the killings a “terrorist attack” and promised to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate.

“It was with utmost shock and horror that I came to hear of the unspeakable crime committed last weekend,” said Mark Veltman, the accused attacker’s father, in an email on Thursday.

“There are no words adequate to properly express my deep sorrow for the victims of this senseless act,” he added.

Scant details about Veltman’s life have come to light.

Veltman worked part-time at an egg-packing plant in Strathroy, Ontario, near London. Neighbours at his downtown London apartment said he could often be heard playing video games at high volume late at night, the London Free Press reported. London is about halfway between Toronto and Detroit.

Sunday’s incident was the worst attack against Canadian Muslims since a man shot six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations, with a membership of 57 countries, condemned strongly what it described as “the heinous terrorist run-over perpetrated by an extremist” against a Muslim family in Canada.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation called on authorities to take the necessary preventive measures to address anti-Muslim hatred, which it said is spreading in many countries where Muslims constitute a minority. In its statement issued on Thursday, the OIC renewed its calls on the United Nations and other global bodies to declare March 15 a day against Islamophobia and intolerance of Muslims.

Source: News Agencies