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Canadian man guilty of Muslim family's murders in Ontario

A Canadian man has been convicted of murder in the 2021 killings of a Muslim family in London, Ontario after an eleven-week trial.

But the jury did not specify whether Nathaniel Veltman, 22, was motivated by terrorism when he killed four members of the Afzaal family.

Veltman ran down the family with his truck while they were walking together.

The case was the first time Canada's terrorism laws had been argued before a jury at a first-degree murder trial.

Jury deliberations are secret under Canadian law, and jurors did not have to specify whether they believed the killer was motivated by terrorism.

The 12-person jury returned the verdict after less than six hours of deliberation.

Salman Afzaal, 46, and his wife Madiha Salman, 44, were killed in the attack - along with their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Mr Afzaal's mother Talat Afzaal, 74.

The couple's nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

The guilty verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom in Windsor's Superior Courthouse on Thursday.

One person handed out tissues for those walking into court, many of whom were members of London, Ontario's Muslim community and friends of the Afzaals.

Reporters inside the room said spectators were visibly emotional as they heard the guilty verdicts being read.

Veltman, who was reported to be inside the courtroom wearing all black, did not react.

His lawyer, Christopher Hicks, said his client was shocked at the verdict.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, relatives of the Afzaal family said that while the verdict does not bring their family back, it did give them some solace.

They added that the trial was a reminder that work is still needed to address hatred in all forms in Canada.

"This wasn't just a crime against the Muslim community, but rather, an attack against the safety and security of all Canadians," said Tabinda Bukhari on behalf of the family.

The National Council of Muslims (NCCM) said they were "relieved that justice has been served".

"The attack that happened over two years ago changed Canadian Muslims' relationship with their country," said NCCM head Omar Khamissa. "For the first time for many of us, we felt unsafe and targeted just for walking down the street."

During the trial, prosecutors sought to argue that Veltman was motivated by hate and white nationalist ideologies when he jumped the curb with his truck and struck the Afzaal family, who were Pakistani-Canadian Muslims on 6 June 2021.

Both the defence and prosecutors agree that Veltman was behind the wheel that day, but he had pleaded not guilty, arguing that he suffers from mental illness.

In his closing arguments, Crown lawyer Fraser Ball said Veltman intended to send a "clear message" with his actions and to make "all Muslims fearful for their safety".

The jury heard evidence of a document left behind by Veltman and found shortly by police after his arrest that outlined his hatred for Muslims.

They also heard that he had began to obsessively consume far-right and anti-Muslim content online during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taking the stand in his own defence during the trial, Veltman said he was scarred by a strict Christian upbringing and struggled with an obsessive compulsive disorder.

He also said that he was left detached from reality after taking magic mushrooms in the days before running the family down.

He admitted that the thought of running over Muslims came to him twice after taking the drug, but he resisted. Then, while out for food, he said he saw the family and could not stop the "urge".

Justice Renee Pomerance thanked the jurors for their verdict, saying that it has been "a long trial and a challenging trial".

Veltman will be sentenced at a later date. Under Canadian law, punishment for first-degree murder is life in prison with no parole for 25 years.

But Justice Pomerance may take other factors into consideration during the sentencing, including whether the murders were an act of terrorism.