Canada truck attack suspect makes brief court appearance

People attend a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack in London, Ontario, on June 8, 2021.
People attend a vigil for the victims of the deadly vehicle attack in London, Ontario, on June 8, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

OTTAWA (AFP) - A Canadian man accused of slamming his pick-up truck into a Muslim family in London, Ontario, killing four people, made a brief court appearance on Thursday (June 10) as new details emerged about him in the local press.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, appeared by videoconference at the hearing in orange prison garb with cropped hair, to sort out his legal representation.

A new court date was set for June 14.

The young man, who has never been convicted of a crime and has no known extremist group affiliations, has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

A nine-year-old boy orphaned in the ramming is recovering in hospital from injuries.

If found guilty, Veltman faces life imprisonment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the attack on a family out for a Sunday evening stroll a "terrorist attack." London police are liaising with federal police and the attorney general about adding possible terror charges.

Detective Superintendent Paul Waight, who is leading the investigation, said Monday there was evidence "that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate."

"It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim," he told a news conference.

At about 8.40pm on Sunday, according to police, the Afzaal family was walking along a sidewalk when a black pick-up truck "mounted the curb and struck" them.

The suspect fled the scene and was arrested a few miles away, where he came face to face with a taxi driver on a break, said local media.

The suspect stopped behind the yellow taxi and, according to an account by the driver's boss Hasan Savehilaghi, "yelled at our colleague to call police because he had killed somebody."

The taxi driver - who is also Muslim - reportedly spotted heavy front-end damage to the suspect's truck as well as blood splatters.

Police arrived quickly and arrested the suspect, who was wearing what Waight described as a vest "like body armour," as well as a military helmet and a T-shirt emblazoned with a swastika, the taxi company president said.

"He was laughing the entire time," Savehilaghi told local media.