A day after a man armed with an axe and bear spray stormed Mississauga’s Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre, in what police believe was a hate-motivated attack, a member of the mosque said he and other congregants will not be kept from their daily prayers.
Noorani Sairally, a volunteer at Dar Al-Tawheed, was praying there on Saturday when the attack happened. He returned to the mosque on Sunday.
“The event that happened will not deter any of the congregants who were present,” he said. But, he added, having his routine interrupted by an armed assailant will not be easy to forget.
“As much as I want to shake this off and go about life, there is a scar,” he said. “This is one thing that is playing in my mind over and over again. It was a very traumatic and frightening event that happened.”
Peel Regional Police said the attack started around 7 a.m. on Saturday, when a man walked into the mosque and discharged bear spray toward people who were praying. Members of the mosque were able to subdue the attacker until police arrived.
A 24-year-old man, Mohammad Moiz Omar, was arrested in relation to the attack. Peel police have charged him with offences that include assault with a weapon, administering a noxious substance with intent to endanger life, uttering threats and mischief to religious property. In a Saturday news release, the force said the attack was “believed to be a hate-motivated incident.”
Speaking on Saturday evening, hours after the attack, Mr. Sairally said he could still feel the bear spray in his lungs and feel his eyes burn if he touched them. His first instinct, he said, was to wonder if someone was trying to repeat the 2017 mosque shooting that left six people dead in Quebec City.
When the attack started, prayer had been under way for about five minutes, he recalled. He heard a scream behind him and turned to see someone discharging bear spray at the back of the prayer group, before a young man knocked away the attacker’s axe and tackled him to the ground. Others helped keep the attacker down until police arrived, Mr. Sairally said.
Many people in the mosque ran outside afterward because of the noxious effect of the bear spray, he added.
Mr. Sairally said the mosque is trying to gather all the people present during the attack to offer support to those who need it.
Peel police Superintendent Rob Higgs said the force’s investigation is continuing, and the mosque said police are increasing their presence in the area.
“Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our community and we are taking this matter extremely seriously,” Supt. Higgs said.
Mr. Sairally said Marco Mendicino, the federal Minister of Public Safety, and Sean Fraser, the Minister of Immigration, paid a visit to the mosque on Sunday to reassure congregants.
Members of the mosque spoke to the cabinet ministers about getting funding to improve security measures at the facility, he added.
Ibrahim Hindy, the imam at Dar Al-Tawheed, said the mosque is considering locking its doors to prevent unwanted visitors, but that doing so would be inconvenient, because it would mean excluding people who are a few minutes late to prayers.
The attack occurred two weeks before the start of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting, prayer and community dinners that is the busiest time of year for many mosques.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack over the weekend and said such violence has no place in Canada.
“The attack on congregants at the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre is incredibly disturbing,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I’m keeping the community in my thoughts today. I also want to applaud the courage of those who were there this morning.”
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