Police identify man stabbed to death outside Etobicoke mosque as Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58

Toronto police have identified the victim of a fatal stabbing at an Etobicoke mosque on Saturday evening as 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis.

Zafis, a volunteer caretaker at the mosque, was sitting outside in a chair when he was attacked

Toronto police taped off the International Muslim Organization mosque after the fatal stabbing. The organization said it was 'deeply saddened and shocked' to learn about the 'tragic incident.' (Robert Krbavac/CBC)

Toronto police have identified the victim of a fatal stabbing at an Etobicoke mosque on Saturday evening as 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis.

Police say Zafis, of Toronto, was stabbed once by a man while sitting outside the front doors of the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque, 65 Rexdale Blvd., near Islington Avenue. 

Zafis, working as a volunteer caretaker at the mosque, was controlling access into the place of worship to ensure compliance with public health regulations. He is Toronto's 52nd homicide victim of the year.

Officers responded to a call of unknown trouble around 8:40 p.m. When paramedics arrived, they found Zafis without vital signs. Police confirmed he died at the scene.

Ayman Tahir, Imam at the IMO mosque, was inside when he heard that Zafis was on the ground outside. 

"We rushed outside to find out what happened to him. We found the blood all over the place," Tahir said.

People immediately called 911, he added. Police have not confirmed whether the killing is a hate crime and Tahir said he is urging people not to speculate. 

"We don't know anything. The community is in shock, in grief, and in denial. We're waiting for the police investigations."

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was sitting outside when he stabbed to death. Police say he was controlling entry into the place of worship to ensure compliance with public health guidelines. (Toronto Police Service)

Officers are now searching for the suspect, who is described as a slim man wearing a black hoodie and dark pants and who was seen fleeing the scene on foot. 

The IMO of Toronto issued a statement on social media Saturday night, saying the organization was "deeply saddened and shocked" to learn about the "tragic incident." 

"There are no words for what happened to the member of this congregation," the statement reads.

"We further encourage our community not to speculate on what happened as the investigation is ongoing. Instead, we ask that you keep our brother and his family in your prayers."

Members shocked, overwhelmed by incident

Some members of the mosque expressed shock when they heard about the stabbing.

"From what I know, ever since I've been going there, something like this has never happened. There's never been any acts of violence in that mosque or even outside that mosque," said Shehroz Shabbir, a long-time member.

"I'm just completely overwhelmed and shocked by the incident that took place last night."

He also knew Zafis and described fond memories of him.

"Ever since I could remember, I would see him. He spoke different languages. He treated everyone very kindly," Shabbir said.

"This is where people come to find peace and prosperity," he said. "For something like this to happen there, this very sad."

Members of mosque and the Imam pray and comfort each other at the spot where the victim was killed. (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

Halima Mohammed, a member with the IMO for 23 years, said he remembers speaking with Zafis last Sunday at the mosque.

"He's such a nice person. Very kind and nice."

The building has closed its doors for now and the organization says it will reopen when the investigation is concluded and it is deemed safe for the congregation to return.

The mosque has issued a follow-up statement that advises that people affected by the killing can contact a mental health hotline or arrange a meeting with a spiritual counsellor.

Police are appealing to anyone who may have witnessed the stabbing to come forward. Anyone with information is urged to call police, or CrimeStoppers if they wish to remain anonymous.

Investigators are looking for cell phone images, dashboard camera footage and security video.

Police released this image of the suspect. He is described as a slim man wearing a black hoodie and dark pants and he was seen fleeing the scene on foot. (Toronto Police)