OTTAWA — The driver of a pickup truck in London, Ontario, who ran down five pedestrians, killing four of them, chose his victims because they were Muslim, the police said on Monday.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act and that the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith,” said Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London Police at a news conference.
Mayor Ed Holder of London, which is midway between Detroit and Toronto, called it “an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
The killings happened on one of the first summerlike weekends of the year in London. The police told reporters that a man in a black pickup drove up on a curb and mowed down a family standing on the sidewalk and waiting to cross a busy suburban road.
The victims were identified by the family in a statement as Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife, Madiha, 44; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna; and Mr. Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother. The statement said that their 9-year-old son, Fayed, remained in hospital “on the road to recovery from serious injury.”
“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzaal family know the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” the statement added.
The driver sped away at a high speed, running through several red lights before being stopped and arrested in a shopping mall parking lot a little more than four miles away. The police said he was wearing body armor at the time.
The suspected attacker was publicly identified as Nathaniel Veltman, 20, on Monday, when he was charged with four counts of first-degree, or premeditated, murder and one count of attempted murder. The police said that they were consulting the attorney general and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about possible terrorism charges.
Little information about Mr. Veltman’s actions, other than the motive, was offered by the police, but they did say that he was not a known member of any hate group and that he did not know the victims.
Neighbors in the downtown apartment where Mr. Veltman lives, told the London Free Press that there were frequent disputes over noise coming from his unit, particularly late at night.
The killings echoed a rampage in Toronto in 2018 in which a man used a rental van to mow down pedestrians on sidewalks there, killing 10 people and severely injuring 16.
The previous year, a man walked into a mosque in Quebec City and started shooting, killing six people and wounding eight.
While Canadian officials described those events as terrorist attacks, both cases were ultimately prosecuted as murders.
“It’s very rare to see actual terrorism charges brought because it ups the burden on the prosecutor without really adding anything in terms of sentence,” said Leah West, a professor who specializes in counterterroism and national security law at Carleton University in Ottawa. She added that convictions on both first-degree murder and serious terrorism charges have the same sentence, life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
But Nadia Hasan, the chief operating officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said that terrorism charges should be pursued.
“We need to be able to send a message to the Muslim community that these types of incidents, and unfortunately I have to use the plural there, are taken seriously and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
Last September, a volunteer caretaker was fatally stabbed outside of a Toronto mosque. Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that monitors hate groups in the country, said that the man accused of the killing had widely posted neo-Nazi statements online.
In 2019, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the police reported 1,946 hate crimes in Canada. While there were fewer reported hate crimes targeting religion that year, those targeting Muslims rose by 10 percent from 2018.
Canada is known for its openness to immigration and its ethnic diversity, and the Muslim community in London dates back to the turn of the 20th century and is particularly prominent. Mr. Holder, the mayor, said that Arabic is the second most common language in the city and about 10 percent of the city’s 405,000 residents form its Muslim community.
“London would be unrecognizable if the Muslim community weren’t there,” Ms. Hasan said. “We all need to collectively take a step back and face the reality that we live in a country where a man can be so deeply influenced by Islamophobia and so deeply influenced by hate that he would get in his car and decide that today is the day I’m going to go and kill Muslims.”