Muslim victims of truck attack given farewell with coffins draped in Canadian flags


Flag-wrapped coffins are seen outside the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, during a funeral of the Afzaal family that was killed in what police describe as a hate-motivated attack, in London, Ontario, Canada June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) - Several hundred mourners joined a public funeral service on Saturday to bid farewell to a Canadian Muslim family run over and killed by a man in a pick-up truck last Sunday in an attack the police said was driven by hate.

The hour-long ceremony started after the four coffins draped in Canadian flags rolled into the compound of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, and ended with prayers and condolences offered by religious and community leaders.

The four victims, spanning three generations, were killed when Nathaniel Veltman, 20, ran into them while they were out for an evening walk near their home in London, Ontario. A fifth family member, a 9-year-old boy, is recovering from his injuries in the hospital.

Police have said the attack was premeditated and allege the family was targeted because of their Islamic faith.

The funeral procession later proceeded for a private burial.

"And the very fact their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is an apt testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them," Raza Bashir Tarar High Commissioner for Pakistan to Canada told the gathering.

The family moved to Canada from Pakistan some 14 years ago.

The attack sparked outrage across Canada, with politicians from all sides condemning the crime, spurring growing calls to take action to curb hate crime and Islamophobia. The city of London, 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Toronto, has seen an outpouring of support in the aftermath of the attack.

That has given some hope to the grieving community to look beyond the tragedy.

"Irrespective of colour and creed, the expressions of raw emotion, the prayers, the quiet tears, the messages of comfort from people we know and from people that are complete strangers, it has been the first step towards finding a way to heal," Ali Islam, maternal uncle of Madiha Salman, one of the victims, told the gathering.

Veltman, who returns to court on Monday, faces four charges of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the killings a "terrorist attack" and vowed to clamp down on far-right groups and online hate.

"I think we're emotionally exhausted," Imam Aarij Anwer told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp before the ceremony. "We're looking forward to having some closure on Saturday."

(Reporting by Carlos Osorio in London; Writing by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)

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