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A Canadian Muslim family of Pakistani origin on Sunday lost three of its generations after it was targeted in a “religiously-motivated” attack when a pick-up truck ran over them in the south of Canada's Ontario province while they were waiting on the sidewalk to cross the road.
Police said the family fell prey for being Muslim and the attack appeared to be a “premeditated” one.
At about 8:40pm on Sunday (0040 GMT Monday), according to police, five members of a family were walking together along a sidewalk when a black pick-up truck "mounted the curb and struck" them as they were waiting to cross the intersection.
A 20-year-old suspect wearing a vest "like body armor" fled the scene after the attack, and was arrested at a mall seven kilometres from the intersection in London, Ontario where it happened, Detective Superintendent Paul Waight said.
The four family members killed were Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah Afzaal and Afzaal's 74-year-old mother whose name has not yet been released. Their nine-year-old son, Fayez Afzaal, is in hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The family had migrated to Canada from Pakistan 14 years ago.
"There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim," Waight told a news conference.
Identified as Nathaniel Veltman, the suspect had been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
He is due back in court on Thursday after being remanded to custody on Monday.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the incident as a “terrorist attack”.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, he called the attack “a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence”.
“This was no accident,” he said. “This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities.”
Trudeau said he had spoken with London Mayor Ed Holder about how to keep Muslim communities safe across the country.
This includes, “more action to dismantle far-right hate groups, like what we did with the Proud Boys by adding them to Canada’s terror list”, the he said.
Earlier, the Canadian premier tweeted that he was "horrified" by the attack. "To the loved ones of those who were terrorised by yesterday's act of hatred, we are here for you," he said, singling out the nine-year-old in hospital.
"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," he added.
Holder said it was an “act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, rooted in unspeakable hatred”.
Expressing grief over the killings, Prime Minister Imran Khan called the attack "condemnable act of terrorism".
”Saddened to learn of the killing of a Muslim Pakistani-origin Canadian family in London, Ontario,” PM Imran said in a tweet.
"Islamophobia needs to be countered holistically by the international community," he added.
“This condemnable act of terrorism reveals the growing Islamophobia in Western countries.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said three generations of Pakistani-Canadians were killed in a "brutal act of mass murder for their Muslim faith".
"This is an act of terror rooted in unspeakable hatred and Islamophobia. Extend our deepest sympathy to the family members and pray for recovery of the only survivor; a little boy," he tweeted.
Qureshi said the killings were a “test case for the Canadian government and society”.
He urged the Canadian government to play its role in restoring the confidence and protection of Muslims residing in their country.
The Foreign Office also condemned the Islamophobic incident.
"The High Commission for Pakistan in Ottawa and the Consulate General in Toronto are in close contact with the relevant Canadian authorities to ascertain the facts of the case and to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous act are brought to justice," the FO said in a statement.
The consul general in Toronto also visited the family of the deceased to offer condolences and all possible assistance, it added.
"This tragic incident is yet another manifestation of the systematic rise in Islamophobia. The Canadian prime minister has stated that Islamophobia has no place in any of their communities. Events like these further reinforce the imperative for the international community to work together for interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence," the statement said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his outrage over the "targeted" killings and called for a united standing against Islamophobia.
"I am appalled by the targeted and heinous attack on a Muslim family in Ontario, Canada," the UN chief wrote on the Twitter.
"My heart goes out to the victims, surviving family and loved ones - and the community," he said.
"We must stand united against Islamophobia and all forms of hatred, now more than ever," he noted.
Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on the international community to take common action against Islamophobia.
"May Allah's mercy be upon our four Muslim brothers and sisters from the same family who were massacred in Canada," Cavusoglu said on Twitter.
"We must all fight together against the terrorism of Islamophobia, racism and discrimination," he added.
"The international community must take common action without further delay."
Turkey's presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin also condemned the attack, saying it "shows once again how constructed fear leads to hatred, hatred to animosity and violence."
"This modern barbarism must be stopped. The demonisation of Muslims must be ended," Kalin said on Twitter.
Omer Celik, a spokesperson for Turkey's Justice and Development (AK) Party, criticised the use of anti-Islamic rhetoric by some politicians and media, saying it encourages hate crimes.
"It is not just a simple criminal act," Celik said in a tweet. "The language of politics and media, which gives credit to hate crimes, is responsible for this." AGENCIES