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Canadian Man, Accused Of Driving Down A Muslim Family, Faces Terrorism Charges

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A Canadian man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in Ontario last week is now charged with terrorism. Police say the 20-year-old carried out a premeditated attack because of his victims' religion. Reporter Emma Jacobs has more from Quebec City.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Canada's deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, reacted to the charges in a news conference on Monday, approving of the decision to designate the attack as terrorism.

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CHRYSTIA FREELAND: It is important for us to identify the terrible threat that white supremacism poses to Canada and to Canadians.

JACOBS: Canadians took part in observances across the country over the past week in honor of the family killed in the attack in London, Ontario. For many, the events brought back memories of an earlier tragedy. In 2017, a man opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, killing six worshippers and injuring five. Several hundred people gathered outside that Quebec City mosque for a vigil on Friday evening.

AYMEN DERBALI: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: Aymen Derbali was paralyzed trying to disarm the gunman in the 2017 attack and now uses a wheelchair. He thanked those who came to honor the family killed in London. Below him was a portrait of the victims. Madiha Salman, her husband, Salman Afzaal, Afzaal’s mother and the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, were out for a walk when a 20-year-old Canadian man ran a pick-up truck onto the curb. The couple's 9-year-old son, Fayez, survived.

DERBALI: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: Derbali said, "personally, since hearing the news, I've been feeling very badly. It's made me relive everything we went through." Like the U.S., Canada is contending with a surge in right-wing radicalization, which at times has turned violent. Last year in Toronto, a man with alleged neo-Nazi ties was charged with murdering the caretaker of a mosque. An attendee at the vigil in Quebec City, Zied Kallel, said that they wanted to express solidarity with the community targeted in London.

ZIED KALLEL: We are with you. We are feeling what you are feeling because we went through all what you're going through right now.

JACOBS: Kallel lost friends in the 2017 shooting.

KALLEL: That's why I'm feeling all this anger and all this sadness these days.

JACOBS: Another attendee, a woman named Saloua Hajji, says that the latest attack also intensified fear she's felt since the Quebec City attack.

SALOUA HAJJI: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: Hajji is wearing a navy blue headscarf. She works as a nurse and says her shifts finish late at night.

HAJJI: (Speaking French).

JACOBS: "On my way home in winter," she says, "I hide under the hood of my coat so that people can't see that I'm Muslim. But during the summer, there's nothing I can do." She says she tries not to transmit her fear to her husband or kids. At a vigil in Montreal the same evening, Quebec's minister for fighting racism was heckled over a provincial law barring many public employees, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols. It's seen by many as targeting Muslim women who wear headscarves. Debate over the bill intensified nationally over the past week. After the vigil in Quebec City, another survivor of the 2017 mosque attack, Larbi Yahia, says he still feels welcome in Quebec but that changes are needed at all levels, including in schools.

LARBI YAHIA: To bring this living together message because we have to fight against ignorance. It's the ignorance that brings all this hatred. We don't know each other.

JACOBS: Yahia says he lost his best friend in the shooting four years ago. Two other survivors of that attack traveled to Ontario to offer condolences to the family of last week's victims, who were laid to rest on Saturday.

For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Quebec City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.