Toronto

Toronto mosque where staff were allegedly threatened calls for incident to be probed as 'hate-motivated'

A Toronto mosque where two people were arrested for allegedly attempting to break in and threatening building staff is calling for the incident to be investigated as potentially hate-motivated.

2 arrested Tuesday after attempted break-in, allegedly threatening to set off explosive

Toronto police arrested two suspects following an incident at the Islamic Institute of Toronto on Tuesday, June 15. (Submitted by Taha Shaikh)

A Toronto mosque where two people were arrested for allegedly attempting to break in and threatening building staff is calling for the incident to be investigated as potentially hate-motivated.

"We are extremely concerned and saddened that this incident this took place in our beautiful place of worship. No community, or any place of worship should be subjected to such threats and heightened anxiety," said Fareed Amin, chair of the board of directors of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, in a statement.

"Such incidents run against the very core values that we as Canadians believe, cherish and take pride in our country."

Toronto police say they received a call at around 11:50 a.m. from the Islamic Institute of Toronto at 1630 Neilson Rd, near Morningside Avenue and Finch Avenue East. Witnesses alleged a man and a woman tried to enter the building and uttered threats, notably to a custodian at the site. One witness told CBC News the intruders threatened to set off an explosive.

Police recovered no weapons or explosives while making the arrests. 

"While there is no evidence to suggest this is hate motivated at this time, out of an abundance of caution, our Hate Crime Unit has been notified and will support the ongoing investigation," police said in a statement.

The statement also says the pair were "were believed to be under the influence of illicit drugs."

The mosque, along with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said in its statement that the organization has been in contact with Toronto police, and is now "calling for this incident to be investigated as a potentially hate-motivated crime."

The incident comes in the wake of the deadly attack on a Muslim family in London last week, which police have said was hate-motivated, and has left many in the community anxious about their safety. 

Omar Essawi was visiting the mosque with his business partner at the time of the incident and decided to call police.

"We noticed two people — a white male and a white female — attempting to enter the front of the building," Essawi said.

Initially, he had assumed it was some sort of delivery, but both individuals were empty-handed.

Suspects threatened to 'detonate an explosive,' witness says

"They got aggressive with regards to trying to get in the building and started kicking the doors," Essawi said.

"My business partner drove around to ask if they needed help, to which the male responded he was here to detonate an explosive," he said.

At that point, Essawi called police.

While he was on the phone with the police, the woman began approaching Essawi making a gun gesture with her fingers, he said.

"Thankfully police arrived, intercepted her, and arrested them both," he said.

Fareed Amin, the chair of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, told CBC News the intruders tried to break into the mosque after walking through the open gates.

"They started banging the main door, but couldn't get in, so they went around, tried the side doors, gym doors, but none were open," Amin said.

The gates to the complex were left open for maintenance and deliveries, Amin said. 

Witnesses say the intruders uttered threats to staff. One witness told CBC Toronto they threatened to 'detonate an explosive.' (Submitted by Taha Shaikh)

In addition to a mosque, the site houses an Islamic elementary school, community facilities, a library, and a gymnasium. 

Amin said the intruders got hold of the custodian's personal keys, which were hanging near an outdoor storage room.

"They took his keys, and tried getting in using the keys," Amin said.

While Amin did not hear "foul language" he was told by another witness that the suspects were "threatening to kill people, shoot folks, saying things like they'll detonate the building," he said.

"We've had increased patrol at most Islamic centres in Scarborough," Amin said. "The police responded quickly."

"They seemed inebriated," he added.

While there were no physical injuries reported, Amin said the custodian "is a bit shaken."

"Fear's the first thing that comes to mind," Essawi said of the incident. "Before London happened, I would've felt comfortable approaching them, but because of what happened in London we made an effort to keep distance."

Essawi added he was grateful for the "quick response" by the police and their and "sensitivity to the situation."

Toronto Police said the investigation is in the early stages and they will continue to update the public as it progresses.

Police are engaging with community members and patrols remain in the area.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ali Raza is a journalist at CBC News Toronto and CBC Radio. Born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, Ali has worked in community newsrooms across the Greater Toronto Area covering politics, crime, breaking news, and more. Have a news tip? Send it over to ali.raza@cbc.ca

With files from Derick Deonarain

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