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White nationalism inspired Canadian man to kill Muslim family, prosecutor says

Trial marks the first time a terrorism charge linked to white supremacy will be heard in a Canadian court
Families visit a makeshift memorial near site where a man driving a pickup truck struck and killed four members of a Muslim family in Canada's London, Ontario, on 8 June 2021 (AFP)

A Canadian man who killed a Muslim family of four held white nationalist beliefs and set out to commit an act of terrorism, prosecutors alleged on Tuesday, in a trial being watched as a bellwether for prosecuting far-right acts of violence.

Nathaniel Veltman, now 22, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the killing of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, in June 2021.

The case also marks the first time arguments of a terrorism motive related to white supremacy will be heard in a Canadian court.

In opening remarks cited by local media, prosecutor Sara Shaikh said Veltman had gone out looking for Muslims to kill. When he passed the family out for an evening walk, he turned his pickup truck around and accelerated, jumping the curb as he drove into them.

Bodies reportedly flew into the air. Pieces of clothing worn by one or more of the victims would later be found embedded in the truck's front grill and bumper.

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"He drove his truck directly at them," Shaikh was quoted by broadcaster CTV as telling the court, with "pedal to the metal".

Veltman was arrested at a nearby mall wearing body armour and a helmet. 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, she 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 his truck.

Three generations of the Afzaal family were killed in the attack: Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife Madiha Salman, 44; his mother Talat Afzaal, 74; and their daughter Yumnah, 15.

A fifth victim, a boy, then nine, was seriously injured.

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

There has been a rise in Islamophobic incidents in Canada in recent years. Observers say that the rising Islamophobia has exposed the myth of Canadian multiculturalism.

In August 2022, government agency Statistics Canada reported that hate crimes against Muslim communities across Canada had increased by 71 percent in 2021 alone. 

The 2021 car ramming 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.

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