Toronto

Man charged in stabbing death of Etobicoke mosque caretaker

A 34-year-old man has been charged in the stabbing death of the caretaker of an Etobicoke mosque that occurred over the weekend.

Guilherme Von Neutegem, 34, charged with 1st-degree murder in connection with killing of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis

Police say they've arrested a 34-year-old man following the fatal stabbing of a mosque caretaker over the weekend. (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Toronto police say they've made an arrest in the stabbing death of 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a volunteer caretaker at a mosque in Rexdale.

Guilherme Von Neutegem, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder, police announced Friday afternoon. 

"There does not appear to be any motive and there does not appear to be any known relationship between the accused and the victim" at this time, but the investigation will be ongoing, said Insp. Hank Idsinga at a press conference.

Zafis was stabbed last Saturday while he was sitting outside the front doors of the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque at 65 Rexdale Blvd, near Islington Avenue, police said at the time. 

Zafis was working as a volunteer caretaker of the mosque and was controlling access into the building in order to comply with public health orders. 

Idsinga told reporters that Von Neutegem was arrested Friday morning after he was identified by investigators on Thursday.

He was charged with first-degree murder as detectives allege "the accused simply walked up to [Zafis] and stabbed him," while he was sitting on a chair outside of the mosque, noted Idsinga. Police are urging anyone with information to come forward.

'Too soon' to say if 2 homicides connected, police say

Rampreet (Peter) Singh, 39, was also fatality stabbed on Sept. 7,  five kilometres from where Zafis was slain days later, police said.

At a news conference Monday, Idsinga said police could not "exclude that possibility" that Singh's killing is connected with the Zafis case.

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was remembered by friends and family at his funeral on Wednesday as a 'kind, gentle soul.' (Toronto Police Service)

However, on Friday, Idsinga said it's "too soon" to comment on a possible connection between the two homicides as the investigation is active. 

"We will provide further information as soon as we can on that investigation. We continue to explore every possibility and we will go where the evidence takes us," he said. Until then, investigators cannot label Von Neutegem as a suspect in Singh's murder, he added.

Tens of thousands viewed online funeral for Zafis

Toronto Police Supt. Ron Taverner said at the same news conference that Zafis's family was notified of the arrest earlier Friday and are "obviously devastated" by his death. 

"But I can tell you the support they've had from the Muslim community is amazing," said Taverner, adding the family told him more than 30,000 people viewed the online funeral Wednesday.

At the funeral, Zafis was remembered by friends and family as a "kind, gentle soul" who volunteered to hand food out to the hungry, even on the day he was killed.

Hundreds of mourners gathered in the parking lot close to where Zafis was stabbed to mourn the man who was working to ensure worshippers were safe from the threat of COVID-19.

Daughter Bebe Zafis, left, and nephew Zahir Zafis, right, comfort each other at the funeral of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Zafis was stationed at the front door to check that all who entered were wearing masks and respected physical distancing rules.

Zafis spent years volunteering at a local food bank and recently held a drive-through barbecue for children, Imam Ayman Taher told CBC News on Wednesday.

Right before he was killed, Taher says he spoke to Zafis about the deceased man's efforts to prepare food for a local Syrian family who had just lost a child. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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