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Some closure in London, Ont., after attack trial ends with murder convictions

Thousands of people march against Islamophobia in memory of the Afzaal family in London, Ont. on Sunday, June 5, 2022.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

LONDON, Ont. — A day after a jury convicted a man of murdering a Muslim family in London, Ont., the verdict – and what it meant – was part of the conversation among worshippers who packed a mosque in the southern Ontario city for afternoon prayers. 

Jurors in Windsor, Ont., found Nathaniel Veltman guilty on Thursday of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck on June 6, 2021.

The attack, which prosecutors had said was an act of terrorism by a self-professed white nationalist, devastated the city and triggered national calls to combat Islamophobia. 

At the London Muslim Mosque, where the verdict was mentioned during the remarks before Friday prayers, Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal said the conviction brought some solace, although there was still more work to be done to fight hate. 

"It does provide some level of closure as well as relief for the community, but it's not over because there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," said Twakkal, who is also the chair of the London council of imams. 

"That hatred exists within our society and it needs to be addressed so that this never happens again to anyone."

The trial, which was heard over 10 weeks, brought back a lot of traumatic memories for many in London's Muslim community, said Twakkal.

"This was very weighty and heavy on the family and on the community in general," he said. 

"(The verdict) sends a very strong message and sets a precedent to say that not only is it unacceptable, and that there is no place for this within our society, but also the consequences are severe."

Twakkal said he has heard from members of the Muslim community in London that they remain concerned about Islamophobia and noted that cases of discrimination against Muslims still occur. 

"It's not like as soon as the verdict comes out, then all of it goes away," he said. 

"There are a lot of things that are still taking place within our communities, within our, our cities that, that are discriminatory, that are Islamophobic and they need to be addressed."

Nawaz Tahir, chair of Hikma Public Affairs Council, an advocacy group for Muslims in the London area, said the current Israel-Hamas war, and the tensions it has led to in Canada further highlight the need to stand up to hate. 

"We definitely have to address that," he said. 

Cases such as what happened with the Afzaal family, but also the 2017 Quebec city mosque shootings and other instances of violence against Muslims, "chips away at the feeling of security of Muslims," said Tahir, not just in London, but across the country. 

What helps to combat Islamophobia, is when different communities come together to stand up to hate, said Twakkal, the imam at the London mosque. 

"There are many people within the community that continue to voice their support, that continue to provide messages of love and peace," he said. 

"This is something that is provides us with the hope that helps the healing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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