Sentencing hearing begins for man convicted of London attack on Muslim family

The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, January 4, 2024 5:23 am EST

Last updated Thursday January 4, 2024 12:19 pm EST

A local faith leader says Nathaniel Veltman’s sentencing hearing will be a time to reflect on the ways the deadly attack on an Ontario Muslim family has reverberated in the community.

Abd Alfatah Twakkal, who chairs the London Council of Imams, says he hopes the sentencing hearing will feature accounts of the emotional, physical and spiritual impacts of Veltman’s attack directly from family, friends and community members. of the victim.

The Imam says the murder of four members of the Afzaal family must be a moment of decisive action to ensure cities are safe havens for people of all backgrounds “for the sake of our common humanity”.

Nathaniel Veltman, 23, was found guilty in November of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk on June 6, 2021.

His trial was held in Windsor, Ontario, but the sentencing process – including the submission of victim impact statements – will take place in London, where the attack took place.

Salman Afzaal, 46 years old; his wife, Madiha Salman, 44; his daughter Yumna, 15 years old; and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed, while the couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously injured but survived.

The attack devastated the city and sparked national calls to combat Islamophobia.

Nusaiba Al-Azem, legal director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, says Veltman’s trial should be a moment of national reckoning.

He said the attack sent a deliberate, hateful message to the entire country. “We must be ourselves,” she said, “as a society, what message do we wish to send in return?”

Veltman’s trial was the first in which Canadian anti-terrorism laws were presented to a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

Judge Renee Pomerance, who oversaw the trial, told jurors that they could convict Veltman of first-degree murder if they unanimously agreed that prosecutors had established that he intended to kill the victims and planned and deliberated his attack.

He also told jurors they could reach the same verdict if they determined the killings were terrorist activity.

The terrorism component is not a separate charge and jurors do not explain how they reach their verdict, so it is unclear what role – if any – the terrorism accusations played in their decision.

Pomerance can reach conclusions on that issue as part of the sentencing process.

Prosecutors had argued that the attack was an act of terrorism committed by a self-proclaimed white nationalist, while defense attorneys argued that Veltman had no criminal intent to kill the victims and did not deliberate or plan the attack.

During the trial, Veltman testified that he was influenced by the writings of a gunman who committed the mass murders of 51 Muslim worshipers at two New Zealand mosques in 2019.

He also said he had been considering using his truck, which he bought a month earlier, to carry out an attack and searched online for information about what happens when pedestrians are hit by cars at different speeds.

He told the jury he felt “the urge” to hit the Afzaal family after seeing them walking along a sidewalk, adding that he knew they were Muslims because of the clothes they were wearing and noticed the man in the group had a beard. .

Jurors also saw a video of Veltman telling a detective that his attack had been motivated by white nationalist beliefs. The court also heard he wrote a manifesto in the weeks before the attack, describing himself as a white nationalist and peddling baseless conspiracy theories about Muslims.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 4, 2024.

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