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Man accused in killing of London, Ont., family told cab driver to call police

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LONDON, Ont. — The man accused of deliberately mowing down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., demanded a cab driver call police to arrest him minutes after the attack, the head of a local taxi company said Wednesday.

Hasan Savehilaghi, president of Yellow London Taxi, said one the company’s drivers was having a cigarette and a coffee next to his car in an empty strip mall parking lot on Sunday night when a black pickup truck came screeching to a halt directly behind his vehicle.

The man in the truck launched into a profanity-laced tirade directed at the taxi driver, said Savehilaghi, speaking on behalf of his employee, who he said was badly shaken by what happened.

“He yelled at our colleague to call police because he had killed somebody,” Savehilaghi said.

It was then that the cab driver noticed heavy damage to the front of the pickup truck, as well as the presence of a lot of blood, Savehilaghi said. The cab driver called 911 and, while on the line with the dispatcher, noticed a police car going by, Savehilaghi recounted.

The taxi driver immediately sprinted after the officer and told her what he had heard from the man in the truck, the company president said. The officer and a few others came over to the truck and took the man out of the vehicle, he said.

The man who was in the pickup truck wore a military helmet and what appeared to be an armoured vest, Savehilaghi said his employee recounted. Once police removed those items, the taxi driver “noticed swastika signs on the chest of (the man’s) T-shirt,” his employer said.

“He was laughing the entire time and he was chanting something,” and asked the taxi driver to record the arrest and “make a movie of him,” Savehilaghi said.

Police have described Sunday’s attack as a targeted anti-Muslim hate crime.

Four of the family members who were struck — representing three generations — have died, while a nine-year-old boy remains in hospital.

Relatives and others who knew them have identified the deceased as 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal. The couple’s son, Fayez, was seriously wounded but is expected to recover.

Nathaniel (Nate) Veltman, 20, of London is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.

The taxi driver who alerted police is also Muslim, Savehilaghi said, and is currently resting at home.

“I am proud of him, he kept calm and he was super smart to flag the police down while on the phone with 911,” Savehilaghi said. “He didn’t panic and he did the right thing every step.”

Neighbours of the family were among the many struggling to come to grips with the loss in the wake of the attack.

“I actually spoke to Salman and his son 24 hours before it happened,” said Craig Tilford, who lives down the street from the family.

“My friend and I are very extroverted, and Salman is not. He saw my friend and I were in a conversation, so we greeted each other. To my friend in Urdu, and me in English.”

While Tilford wasn’t very close with the family, he said he understood they had deep connections with others in the neighbourhood.

When another family moved from Pakistan, Salman and his family welcomed them to the neighbourhood and helped them get settled. “They would feed each other,” he said.

Tilford said he hopes people grappling with the incident are able to lean on their neighbours, rather than turning inwards.

At the site of the crash, a torrential rain Wednesday afternoon washed away the remaining tread marks on the sidewalk, and messages of love and support that mourners had written in chalk overtop of them.

Piles of flowers, cards and teddy bears, waterlogged by the downpour, continued to grow throughout the day as community members stopped by to pay their respects.

Meanwhile, flags were flying at half-mast on Ontario government buildings Wednesday in honour of the victims, a day after a vigil saw droves of residents gather outside the London Muslim Mosque to grieve those killed and support the lone survivor.

Among those at the vigil was 14-year-old Hateem Amin, who has been a close friend of Yumna’s since they were just nine years old. She described Yumna as the kind of friend everyone wants to have.

“She would just compliment you and she would notice your insecurities and purposely direct the compliments at that,” Amin said. “She was so thoughtful.”

She said the two had just gotten the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccines, and were looking forward to when they could safely get together again.

“She was telling me she’s so excited for Grade 10, to make more memories,” Amin said. “Her mom bought us matching clothes from our home country, Pakistan. We were going to match, but we never were able to do that. And that’s something that really hurts me to think about.”

Amin said she’s still grappling with what it means that her friend’s life was cut short.

“It was not a normal death. People die when they get old. They live life, and that’s when they pass on, when it’s time for them to go. It was not time for her to go,” Amin said.

Another of Yumna’s friends, Safiyah Lawendy, 14, said she hopes the alleged attack serves as a wake-up call for people who don’t believe Islamophobia is real or present in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2021.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Two charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance in Regina

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REGINA — Two people accused of killing a Mountie by hitting him with a truck in rural Saskatchewan made their first appearance in court Monday.

Alphonse Stanley Traverse, 41, and Marlene Velma Louise Pagee, 42, have been charged with manslaughter in the weekend death of Const. Shelby Patton.

RCMP have said the 26-year-old officer died Saturday after he stopped a suspected stolen truck in the small town of Wolseley, 95 kilometres east of Regina.

Patton was hit by the truck before it sped off. The officer died at the scene.

Pagee and Traverse were arrested two hours later in a field outside Francis, a town about 80 kilometres southwest of where the officer was killed.

They also face charges of failing to stop after an accident resulting in death as well as of theft of a motor vehicle. Pagee is also charged with possession of a controlled substance.

They appeared in a Regina court in person. Pagee is to be back in court Friday, while Traverse is scheduled for a video appearance on Monday.

Both are from Winnipeg and RCMP have said the truck was stolen in Manitoba. Winnipeg police said they could not provide any information about the investigation.

“The tragic, senseless death of Const. Shelby Patton is being investigated by Saskatchewan RCMP,” Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver wrote in an email.

Manitoba court records show Traverse and Pagee have been in and out of jail for multiple convictions, including theft and break and enter. In 2006, Pagee was found guilty for operating a motor vehicle while being pursued by police.

Both face outstanding charges in Manitoba for unrelated offences.

Meanwhile, a memorial of flowers continued to grow at the Indian Head detachment where Patton was posted.

He had been a Mountie for just over six years and worked at the detachment since 2015. Before that, he was briefly on assignment at Parliament Hill.

Saskatchewan RCMP Assistant Commissioner Rhonda Blackmore said officers have appreciated the outpouring of support and condolence messages.

“These messages help us through this difficult time. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know they share our grief,” Blackmore said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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Putin likens Russian crackdown to arresting Capitol rioters

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to “persecution for political opinions.”

Putin is likely to come under strong criticism from Biden at their meeting in Geneva for moves against his political opponents in Russia, particularly the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the detention of thousands of demonstrators protesting his arrest, and the outlawing of Navalny’s organizations as extremist.

“You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance toward dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently,” he said in an interview with NBC News broadcast Monday. He then pointed to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington when protesters barged into the Capitol to try to halt the count of electoral votes to certify Biden’s election victory over Donald Trump.

“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? … They came there with political demands,” he said.

Although the protests that erupted across Russia after Navalny’s arrest in January were unsanctioned, demonstrators were largely peaceful and did not enter government buildings or cause significant property damage, unlike the Capitol riot.

Putin also reiterated denials that the Kremlin was behind last year’s poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent that nearly killed him.

“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.

“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Putin said, referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window that led to the House floor.

At a news conference after a NATO summit Monday in Brussels, Biden declined to assess how he’ll measure the success of his meeting with Putin because “the last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press.”

Biden described Putin as “bright,” “tough” and a “worthy adversary.” But he indicated he would remain wary of any commitments coming out of their meeting, saying he would “verify first and then trust” the Russian leader.

He also suggested he’d be looking for areas of agreement with the Russian president, while also warning him against continued aggression towards the U.S.

“I’m gonna make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and other activities, then we will respond, we will respond in kind,” he said.

In his NBC interview, Putin sharply dismissed the cyberattack allegations against the U.S. as baseless.

“Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin said. “We have been accused of all kinds of things — election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth — and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations.”

In April, the United States announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and new sanctions connected to the so-called SolarWinds cyberattack in which several U.S. government branches experienced data breaches. U.S. officials blamed the Russian foreign intelligence service.

In May, Microsoft officials said the foreign intelligence service appeared to be linked to an attack on a company providing services to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At the summit, Biden also is expected to raise the case of two Americans imprisoned in Russia: Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage, and Trevor Reed, convicted of assaulting police while drunk. U.S. officials say both were convicted in biased trials on flimsy evidence.

Putin said of Reed, a 29-year-old former Marine: “He’s just a drunk and a troublemaker.”

Putin brushed off one possible source of tension in the upcoming summit: Biden’s claim that he once told Putin he considered the Russian leader soulless.

“I do not remember this particular part of our conversations,” Putin said.

—-

Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed.

The Associated Press

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